Western allies join China's diplomatic doghouse

February 19, 2019

Not so long ago Australia felt alone in the diplomatic doghouse with China.

The Conservative Party continues to call for a royal commission into Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia.

The Australian Financial Review reports, Canberra's hardline stance against Beijing's covert political interference, an early decision to knock back Chinese telco Huawei from providing equipment to 5G networks, and some diplomatic blunders by junior politicians put the Turnbull government in the deep freeze with its biggest trading partner.

But in 2019, Australia has plenty of company when it comes to falling foul of China's Communist Party leaders. In fact, current relations between Canberra and Beijing are positively glowing compared with the frosty treatment being dished out to other Western allies such as Canada and New Zealand.

"It is quite remarkable," Richard McGregor, a senior fellow for East Asia at the Lowy Institute, says of the pushback by Western nations against China's soft power.

"Australia a few years ago felt very isolated but there is a similar debate happening in Germany, Canada, the US, Singapore and now New Zealand," He said it was "interesting now . . . that China prefers to deal with these issues bilaterally".

"Increasingly, there is a dialogue between countries about their grievances with China. Long-term, it will be interesting to see whether that dialogue is sustained and whether China takes heed of any criticism and whether it manages to find a way to resolve these emerging bilateral tensions."

The most obvious manifestation of this unified stance is the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, which has resulted in a ban by the United States and its allies on Chinese tech giant Huawei from providing equipment for new high-speed communications networks.

New Zealand, which enjoyed a particularly tight relationship with Beijing for years under the ruling National Party, now appears to have fallen out of favour after it joined Australia in banning Huawei from the roll-out of a 5G telecommunications network. Officially, both countries say the relationship is solid but China's decision to turn back an Air New Zealand flight en route to Shanghai last week, postpone a major tourism event in Wellington and call off a visit by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggest otherwise.

Meanwhile, Britain's finance minister Philip Hammond was forced to cancel a trip to China over the weekend after Chinese officials became angry at comments by the country's defence secretary about the deployment of an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, where China has territorial disputes. 

New Zealand and the UK are the latest Western powers to be on the receiving end of Beijing's wrath. Canada remains firmly out of favour, with two of its citizens in custody on espionage charges in a move widely believed to be punishment for the arrest of Huawei's finance chief in Vancouver.

Subtle retaliation from China's ruling Communist Party, which does not accept criticism, is nothing new on the global diplomatic stage. 

Conservative Party candidate Rikki Lambert spoke with Adelaide radio station FIVEaa's Leon Byner about the need for a Royal Commission on Chinese communist government influence in Australia.

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Royal Commission on China needed

Revelations on the ABC's 4 Corners program show there are serious questions to be answered about the Chinese Community Party's influence in Australian politics. We cannot trust major parties to review their own conduct. We...

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