US support to Australia trade woes may once again proved to be mere rhetoric
Published: Jul 22, 2021 09:42 PM
Illustration: Tang Tengfei/GT

Illustration: Tang Tengfei/GT

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Wednesday met with Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan. Tai emphasized that the US is closely monitoring the trade situation between Australia and China and stands with Australia to tackle this "shared challenge."

This is not the first time the US government commit itself on Australia on its trade with China. During a meeting with Tehan in March, Tai said almost the same thing when addressing Australia's trade relation with China. However, what happened in the following months is American companies have gladly absorbed market share in China that Australia lost due to mismanagement of the bilateral relationship with its most important trade partner. 

While claiming to work with Australia to address so-called "economic coercion", the US is actually eating Australia's lunch over China trade; this is an undeniable fact. 

The US and Australia have engaged in fierce competition within the Chinese market in many areas, including agriculture, tourism, and energy. US exports to China of wine, cotton, log timber and wood have increased over the past year; exports of American coal have also risen since February, according to media reports. About 720,000 tons of coal made its way from the US to China in May, increasing year on year, but declining from the 1 million tons China received from the US in April, according to Chinese trade data.

According to an assessment carried out by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia in March, as soon as iron ore value is removed from the equation, the full and stark extent of fall of China-Australia trade becomes crystal clear. Most Australian trade with China has plummeted 40 percent amid tensions, ABC news reported. Thermal coal exports to China were down 70 percent in the six months to January 2021, while metallurgical coal had dropped 60 percent. Coal exports dropped 83 percent when comparing the figures from the December quarter of 2019 to the December quarter of 2020, according to ABC news.

In the calculation to maintain its global hegemony status in geopolitical game, the US repeatedly arranges trade talks with Australia officials. At the first glance, the US is trying to help Australia solve its trade issues, but in fact the US is only trying to maintain the dominant position against China in global strategic competition, which is defined by some narrow-minded American politicians, at the expense of Australia's economic interests.

At the same time, the US businesses seem not planning to leave China market. On the contrary, they are constantly strengthening their ties with the Chinese market and increasing investment in China, which means that American companies still take market-oriented perspectives and considerations to decisions. In other words, the US did not kidnap the interests of American companies as Australian politicians do to their own businesses.

Australians should probably see through that continuing to participate in the US campaign to discredit China on trade will only further harm its economic ties with China. If Australia has the sincerity to repair ties with China, it should not treat China as an adversary. Australia is the first country in the West to ban the use of Huawei equipment based on groundless excuses. How can Australia hope that China will unconditionally accept such unfair and unreasonable treatment? Australia should treat Chinese companies fairly and must not politicize economic and trade relations.

The author is professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University.

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