Australia needs to break out of US tech and security domination
Published: Jan 25, 2021 06:48 PM

Illustration:Liu Rui/GT

Editor's Note:

Australia has been pushing a plan to make US tech giants pay for news content. On Friday, Google threatened to stop making its search engine available in Australia. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hit back by claiming, "Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia." Quite a few analysts believe this is an "interesting" case to observe, as they did not expect Australia, a loyal follower of the US, would say "no" to major US interest groups. What's the row all about? Will it have domino effect in other Western countries? Two Chinese experts shared their views with the Global Times.

Xu Shanpin, adjunct researcher at the Center for Australian Studies, China University of Mining and Technology

Australia's attitude projects its perceived independence and capabilities to make decisions on its domestic issues. It is expressing that Australia is US' "deputy sheriff," but not a US vassal state.

Canberra follows Washington closely in terms of defense and diplomatic strategies. But when it comes to specific issues which do not touch upon Australia's core interests, Australia has the will to safeguard its own interests. 

The disputes are not only about whether US companies should pay for news content in Australia, but also about US internet hegemony, in other words, US tech giants' monopoly in Australian cyberspace. 

The latest conflict between the Australian government and US tech giants is quite representative. In the digital era, due to the rapid development of internet technology and the lack of relevant laws, internet giants are able to control substantial quantities of sensitive information and personal data across the world. As a result, they have gained massive influence, but this does not match their actual strength and status. Unfortunately, a number of sovereign countries do not have effective laws and technological tools to regulate those companies. 

Yet Australia may set an example to more Western countries. Following Australia, they might come up with similar laws to strengthen their cyberspace governance and curb the current monopoly of US tech giants. Otherwise, the current situation could, in the long run, jeopardize their own cybersecurity and economic interests. 

Yu Lei, chief research fellow at the research center for Pacific island countries of Liaocheng University in East China's Shandong Province

Although Prime Minister Scott Morrison stressed that, "Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia," this is more like an empty slogan. The truth is that many rules in Australia are designed by the US. 

Most of Australia's media outlets are controlled by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and Fairfax Media, both have US interest groups behind them. Therefore, this is not a row between Australia and Google, but a competition for interests between US-backed Australian media groups and US tech giants - both are US forces. 

Some Australian lawmakers accused Google of "blackmailing" and bullying Australia. This is nothing new. Former Australian prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull stepped down because they were both seen by US interests groups as having moved their cheese. This is why Rudd launched a petition in October 2020 calling for an investigation into Murdoch's media dominance. 

US influence is nowadays infiltrating into every aspect of Australian life. As early as 2019, news.com.au published an opinion piece arguing that, "all four of our big banks are majority-owned by American investors… The Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the nation's biggest company, is more than 60 percent owned by American-based investors." 

This is also the case with Australia's mining industry. The Australian army is filled with US technologies and equipment. If the US withdraws all its elements in Australian troops, the latter may quickly be paralyzed. Moreover, the funding of US interest groups can be found in Australian political parties. 

This is why Australia keeps consolidating its alliance with the US and is willing to act as a pawn for Washington. It does not have another alternative path. If Canberra decides not to serve Washington's interests one day, it will confront a clampdown from the US the next. 

In this sense, Australia has no independence. This can be vividly proved by its foreign policy. It has been explaining to Pacific island countries and its Asian neighbors that it has independent diplomacy, but its so-called foreign strategies and diplomatic moves show that it does not.