Tensions between China and the Western world have intensified over the past five years. Australia has faced trade sanctions on key exports while international concerns have grown over China’s attitude towards the South China Sea and its attitude towards Taiwan.
In November, Defence Minister Peter Dutton – who served in the Howard ministry – said China had engaged in the “occupation, fabrication and militarisation” of the South China Sea and its economic coercion against Australia.
This week, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Chinese government used its economic power to play democratic nations off against each other.
He said China was no longer the China “we thought about 10 years ago or even five years ago in some ways”, arguing that rather than focusing on individual economic imperatives, democratic nations had to work more closely together to prevent China dividing them.
“We’ve been competing and China has been from time to time very cleverly playing us off each other in an open market competitive way. We need to do a better job of working together and standing strong so that China can’t, you know, play the angles and divide us one against the other,” Mr Trudeau told Global News.
“We compete with each other. We’re trying to see how could we get better access for Canadian beef than Australian beef to this country or that market.”
Mr Howard said China was very important to Australia both economically and socially, noting that 1.4 million Australian citizens were of Chinese heritage. Mandarin and Cantonese are the most widely spoken foreign languages in Australia.
But that did not mean issues of importance could be ignored.
Mr Howard said Australia’s call for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19 was not “especially aggressive or unreasonable”, arguing it had not been followed up by “breast beating or bellicose language”.
“No country can afford to ignore the importance of trading relationships. But having said that, there’s no doubt that the belligerence shown has been obvious,” he said.
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