Dan O'Heirity

What the American Election Might Mean for Australia Should Biden Win

People all around the world are fixated on the American Presidential election race. I’m watching what is going on but only checking in on the news a couple of times a day. Fair to say that the whole affair is unbelievable in the way that only a presidential election reality TV show can be unbelievable. Take a look, for example, at this story that reports on an Alabama police captain posting on FaceBook that he’d like to line up Biden supporters and shoot them for treason. Also, drama, drama and more drama with Trump seemingly making false and unsubstantiated claims about voting fraud every chance that he gets. Biden appears to be acting with more dignity, asking his voters to remain calm and reminding people that democracy takes time. The ramifications of the outcome of the presidential election will be felt all around the world but here I want to focus on a story from Sky News that covers what China may do to Australia if Biden should win the election. The report is from Paul Murray and I have said on many occasions that I don’t rate him or really like him as a presenter. However, his report does make the very important point that China may come after Australia if Biden should win the election.

Murray’s argument regarding what China will do is a pretty straightforward one. In the absence of a strong alignment with the United States, China will seek to punish Australia even further for refusing to bend to the will of Beijing regarding the call for an independent inquiry into the origins and spread of Covid-19.

A more subtle argument regarding China-Australia relations is put forward by Professor James Curran from The University of Sydney’s Department of History in an article in the Australian news. Curran argues that China is treating Australia like its “whipping boy” because of Australia’s strong ties with the United States. The argument is extended by University of Sydney Business School professor Hans Hendrischke who has said that whilst China is seeking to cause Australia “some pain” China is not trying to completely destroy the Australian economy. Notably China has left “resource exports” alone such as iron ore. The reason for this is that China is seeking to make political points and to bring Australia back into line. Furthermore professor Hans Hendrischke says that it not just what Australia has done in, for example, calling for a public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic. It is the way that Australian leaders have acted in calling for the inquiry. Hendrischke says that Australian leaders have offended the Chinese through a lack of diplomacy and a lack of guile. I find this notion astonishing. China has repeatedly shown itself to be offensive and arrogant on the world stage. Remember at one point a Chinese media boss called Australia “gum stuck on China’s shoe”.

China has already taken significant economic action against Australia and in this respect I would highly recommend reading a report from the South China Morning Post that includes a timeline of economic sanctions imposed by China against Australia. Here are some highlights. The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison discussed an inquiry into Covid-19 with world leaders on 21st April, 2020. On the 11th May, China banned imports from four major Australian meat processing plants. On the 18th May, China placed an 80.5% tariff on Australian barley exports. On the 31st August, China stopped barley imports from Australia’s CBH Grain, the country’s biggest grain shipping company, because harmful weeds were allegedly found in the cargoes. I could continue but to conclude on 30th October, 2020 China customs banned imports of log timber from Queensland and grain imports from Emerald Grain. You can read another timeline of China imposing sanctions in a Daily Mail report which extends to November 2nd, 2020 with China delaying the import of two million dollars worth of Australian lobsters on the grounds of checking them for mineral deposits. The Daily Mail report concludes with November 3rd, 2020 with China saying that barley, sugar, red wine, logs, coal, lobster and copper will be banned from Friday 6th November, 2020.

So, on the one hand we have professor Hans Hendrischke suggesting that China is not trying to destroy the Australian economy. Rather China is trying to do strategic damage to the economy to bring Australia back into line with what Beijing wants to see. The two timelines presented in the previous paragraph demonstrate just what China has done in terms of trying to damage the Australian economy. No doubt there will be more to come should Australia decide to defy Beijing. However, surely China has not thought through its current strategy. To put it another way, China has overplayed its hands. And here’s why. Michael Shoebridge from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has suggested that further trade bans are not going to make Australia behave as China would like to see Australia behave. Secondly, Shoebridge says that the the way that China is behaving with Australia will influence the opinion of a lot of other countries that trade with China. Think about it. If you were head of a country that had a significant trading relationship with China, wouldn’t you now be looking at what China is doing to Australia? In that respect I think that there could only be one conclusion drawn. Depending on China for trade is dangerous because ultimately China could use the trading relation to try to coerce any country into doing its bidding. Finally Shoebridge makes a point that I made in the distant past. Australia’s trading relationship with China is a recent boom going back five or six years. Australian exports were profitable before China and will continue to be so.

China Might Still Have the Last Laugh As Democracy Flounders

I mentioned above that I am not a fan of Paul Murray. More broadly, one needs to be aware that Sky News has, or at least had, a particular agenda in reporting on the presidential election. Take this report on the 5th November from Australian Sky News host Rowan Dean in which Dean says that Trump “can, will and must win the election”. Dean also seems to put stock in claims about voting fraud that are being made by Trump and others in his camp.

Now, take a look at this report from Andrew Bolt on Australian Sky News from the 6th November. Bolt expresses the hope that Trump will leave the Whitehouse with some dignity. Bolt also refers to Biden “striking a presidential tone” and he essentially says that Trump’s team has no evidence of fraud on a scale that would suggest that Trump has been “cheated out” of the presidency.

In short, Sky News seems to have done a complete volte face on its reporting on the election. In fact, even more broadly news outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch, including Sky News, have done a complete volte face. This is true not just of the Australian outlets but also the American outlets. To put it another way, anyone who watches Sky News will know that the content of this second report is utterly astonishing suggesting as it does that Trump should gracefully leave office. One wonders what went on at Sky News overnight to bring about such a change in perspective and reporting on the presidential election.

Whatever did go on overnight on the 5th / 6th November at Sky News, matters at Sky had changed once again on the 8th November with Sky News Australia putting out a story strongly supporting, for example, claims of electoral fraud. The report is entitled, “Something ‘Stinks to High Heaven’ in the Us Presidential Election”. Honestly, completely baffling.

My reading of what has happened here is that Sky News did not want to get caught up in Trump’s baseless accusations of electoral fraud because Trump is simply not believable. He is known for lying and lying and lying and his claims regarding electoral fraud are no exception. However, I would say that Sky News had another aim in mind. To pull back, regroup and to publish stories seemingly grounded in rational discourse and evidence.

And so we come full circle. A win by Biden does not entail, as Murray suggested, that China will immediately go after Australia. Matters are far more complicated than that both in terms of American-Australian relations should Biden win and in terms of Australia’s own initiatives for economic recovery. For example, remaining “tough” on the China issue is good politics in the United States just as it is in Australia, because the world has “soured” against China. Furthermore, whilst the United States might be almost terminally divided, Americans may agree on China as a common enemy. That said, no matter which candidate wins the election, China is watching on and likely revelling in the fact that America’s democratic processes are, to say the least, in a state of disarray. There is a fascinating article in The Guardian by Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot professor in the department of comparative literature and the program of critical theory at the University of California, Berkeley. Butler makes a number of intriguing points. One point in particular concerns Trumps attempts to subvert democratic processes by calling for the cessation of vote counting in some states and by threating legal action to challenge the legitimacy of the election process. Butler says that, “Considered as a legal strategy, however, by a team of lawyers, even lawyers working for the government, [this] constitutes a serious danger to democracy“. Butler goes on to say that when Americans went to the polls they were not voting just for their candidates but for the possibility of voting at all.

The World is United Against China and Will Stand with Australia

It would be more than fair to say that no matter what result comes from the American election, that result will ultimately point to the fact that America is a deeply divided country. It would also be fair to say that the result is going to reverberate around the world and have consequences for countries including Australia. However, we should remember the fact that the world is uniting against China. Just as Americans can agree on China as a common enemy, so can the rest of the world. As just one example, Germany, which also has a strong trading dependency on China, has recently been very vocal about standing up to China’s aggression and economic coercion. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the German Defence Minister, has said that, “I am convinced territorial disputes, violations of international law and China’s ambitions for global supremacy can only be approached multilaterally.” If you read the article then you will see that Australia is one of a number of countries that Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has in mind in making her statement. Another dimension to this argument, and one that I have made before is that Beijing is arrogant and belligerent on the world stage and does not understand that it cannot bully and intimidate the world as it bullies and intimidates its citizens. Australia is not going to kowtow to China for the very simple reason that do so would tell Beijing that Australia will forever do China’s bidding. That is never going to happen.

First Published 11th November, 2020

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