A US military expert has warned Beijing could hurt Australian companies if the government continues to defy the Chinese Communist Party.
The leader of the US military’s Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson, yesterday told the Lowy Institute in Sydney that China could use Australia to show its ability to punish economic partners that criticise Beijing.
“Beijing has shown a willingness to intervene in free markets and to hurt Australian companies simply because the Australian Government has exercised its sovereign right to protect its national security,” he said.
He noted recent trade blockages at Chinese ports of Australian exports such as coal, as well as Australia’s recent decision to ban Huawei from the 5G network.
“It speaks extraordinarily ill of China and serves as a warning to all nations of the kind of economic retribution they take when they dislike another nation’s diplomatic or security response,” he said.
Mr Davidson also expressed concerns over China’s Belt and Road Initiative, saying its approach is “pernicious”.
“The party uses coercion, influence operations and military and diplomatic threats to bully other states to accommodate the Communist Party of China’s interests,” he said.
“Australia has the right to be very concerned about the Chinese potentially building a base in the island chain. Part of the Indo-Pacific strategy the US has put forward — and I believe Australia has made quite clear is in its national interest — is to prevent such bases from happening.”
US IS ‘ALL IN’ TO COUNTER CHINA
Admiral Davidson said the United States “was all in” to counter China in the Pacific, citing its “excessive territorial claims, debt trap diplomacy, violations of international agreements, theft of international property, military intimidation and outright corruption”.
“The Communist Party of China seeks to control the flow of trade, finance, communications, politics and the way of life in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
The Chinese embassy in Australia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Australian government sparked embassy fury on Thursday after it announced it would extend a travel ban from China in light of the deadly coronavirus spread.
On Friday, Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg conceded the travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus are hurting the economy.
But he says the decision to temporarily prevent visitors and students from mainland China entering Australia is based on the “best possible medical advice”.
“Our first obligation is to act in the national interest,” Mr Frydenberg told reporters in Melbourne on Friday.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese backed the government’s decision to extend the travel ban for another week, despite it raising the wrath of the Chinese embassy in Australia.
“The first priority must be to keep people safe,” Mr Albanese told reporters in Sydney.
China has in the past rejected accusations of aggressive behaviour and of luring small economies into debt “traps”.
The country has been more active in the resource-rich Pacific in recent years, seeking to extend influence with aid and encouraging countries away from diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which China regards as renegade province with not right to state-to-state ties.
The increasing assertiveness in the energy-rich South China Sea, in particular, has raised US and regional concerns.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which some $5 trillion in shipping passes each year. Countries including Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei have overlapping claims to parts of the sea.
Mr Davidson’s comments came at the end of a visit to old ally Australia, which included talks with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Australia, which long enjoyed unrivalled influence in the Pacific, has in recent years been more assertive in maintaining its standing in the region.
In 2018, it launched a $3 billion fund to offer Pacific countries grants and cheap loans for infrastructure.
While vying for influence in the Pacific, Australia and China have also argued over Chinese activities in Australia.
In 2019, Australia concluded that China was responsible for a cyber-attack on its parliament and its three largest political parties – although it declined to publicise its findings amid concern of trade disruptions.
China denied responsibility.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner, buying more than one-third of its total exports and sending more than a million tourists and students there each year.
— with Reuters, AAP