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Australia appears to be struggling to improve relations with China.

Its leaders have recently sought to ease trade tensions between the two countries. But they are going about it in a strange way: by filing a dispute with the World Trade Organization over China’s anti-dumping tariffs on Australian wine exports. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne oddly said in an interview that filing the dispute should trigger bilateral negotiations with China.

This statement is bizarre because it suggests that negotiating a relatively weak irritant in the relationship can be helpful, even if the bigger obstacles to good relationships are ignored. After all, Australia lodged a complaint with the WTO over China’s tariffs on its barley exports in December, and this dispute is years away from being resolved.

Australia needs to step back and look at the big picture. In recent years, Australia has moved from a friendly attitude towards China to a belligerent one. Apparently hoping to cultivate ties with Washington, Canberra has aggressively followed the increasingly aggressive stance of former US President Donald Trump. He was at the forefront on issues such as the Huawei ban, putting himself in the midst of border disputes China has with its neighbors and trying to blame China for the COVID-19 pandemic.

A cartoon depicting Australia rejecting Chinese tech companies like Huawei. / VCG

A cartoon depicting Australia rejecting Chinese tech companies like Huawei. / VCG

China and Australia have enjoyed harmonious relations for decades. It was therefore inappropriate for Canberra to start hitting Beijing in the eye in order to make itself loved by the United States. It was unprovoked and unnecessary. Australia’s constant and active efforts to embarrass China and diminish it on the world stage quickly eroded the goodwill and trust between the two nations.

At present, China is developing its domestic wine industry. China is a vast nation, and parts of it are as good for growing grapes as the vineyards of France, Chile or Australia. Australia has sold subsidized wine into the Chinese market at lower than market rates, so it’s only natural for China to impose tariffs to protect the nascent industry.

When Australia-China relations were good, it was a technical issue that was resolved with a bilateral team of experts. Even if the matter had been taken to the WTO, it might not have been great news. But right now, every irritant in Sino-Australian relations spins a vicious cycle and takes on greater than life significance.

What does Canberra hope to gain? After all, Australia benefits a lot from bilateral trade with China, while for China, Australia is not even one of the top 10 trading partners.

Perhaps he became emboldened by US President Joe Biden’s success in getting his G7 and NATO partners to criticize China. French President Emmanuel Macron recently offered public but vague words of support for Australia in its trade disputes with China, saying: “No one understands freedom better than the French.” And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also offered a few words of support, saying: “We are on the side of our friends”.

However, Johnson also gave Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison subtle warnings about the limits of solidarity, saying: “But I probably also speak for Scott when I say that no one wants to slide into a new cold war with the China. We don’t. see that as the way forward. ”And despite the encouraging words, neither Johnson nor Macron uttered the word“ China ”in their respective statements.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is gone and British leader Boris Johnson announced the trade deal in the garden at 10 Downing Street on June 15, 2021. / Reuters

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is gone and British leader Boris Johnson announced the trade deal in the garden at 10 Downing Street on June 15, 2021. / Reuters

Talking is not expensive. Neither Britain nor France are able to make up for trade losses with China if Canberra ends relations with Beijing. The value of Australia’s exports to China is three times that of its second largest market, Japan, and nearly nine times that of its exports to the United States, according to official Australian trade data. Likewise, Australia’s imports by value from China are double that of the United States, its second largest source of imports.

China poses no threat to Australia, and there is no reason the two nations cannot continue their decades of friendly and commercially rewarding relations. Yet Australia has chosen to play populist politics and suck the US off by reinforcing its Cold War mentality.

What Australia cannot expect is to be able to make unfounded and harmful accusations against China on the one hand and to enjoy friendly trade relations on the other. Other than the issue of tariffs, China is not obligated to buy anything from Australia, and Chinese people and companies will not be inclined to do business with people who insult or despise them. . If Australia is serious about mending its ties with China, it should show goodwill and not file trade disputes.

(If you would like to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com.)

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