New Delhi: Earlier this week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, issued a strong statement against the Five-Eyes alliance’s criticism of their Hong Kong policy.
The Five-Eyes is an intelligence alliance comprising the US, Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand.
On Wednesday, the foreign ministers of these countries issued a joint statement expressing their concerns on increasing Chinese curbs in Hong Kong.
This was Zhao Lijian’s stinging rebuke: “No matter if they have five eyes or 10 eyes, if they dare to harm China’s sovereignty, security and development interests, they should beware of their eyes being poked and blinded.”
The Chinese Foreign ministry also attacked Australia in a 14-point letter. “But these (14 points) are quite incredible in the sense that no sovereign country has ever told another sovereign country to comply with so many wishes and demands,” said ThePrint Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta in episode 623 of ‘Cut The Clutter‘.
In the episode, Gupta talks about China’s 14 grievances and explains how President Xi Jinping lost an opportunity.
The ultimatum from China
The 14-point dossier, that Gupta referred to as a “charge-sheet”, issued by the Chinese side was handed to Nine News, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age by Beijing’s embassy in Canberra. Among the first grievances listed is China’s foreign investment proposals being rejected on national security grounds.
“So far the Chinese, who have spare money and the need for projects outside have been dominating the Australian market. Now there’s pushback from Australia,” Gupta said.
He goes on to explain how the Adani project in Australia has consistently been supported by various governments. “The fact that the government of India is partnering and supporting the Adani project is a strategic move [by Australia], which is working on the notion that another friendly country like India must also have a large investment project in Australia, not just China,” Gupta said.
Australia’s list of demands includes a ban on Huawei from participating in 5G network implementation, an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus and a legislation passed by the Australian Parliament against foreign interference — the last directed at China. “They are telling their Parliament what to do. And telling their Parliament what not to do,” Gupta added.
China also expressed its unhappiness against the Australian media for its “unfriendly and antagonistic” reports.
“It’s as if a democracy like Australia should tell its media to shut up and be kind to China because China wants it done. For the Chinese to presume that democracies can control their media as much as they can control their own is a bit rich. Perhaps, when you think you are a very big power and you have oversized muscles, you can flex them,” Gupta said.
The Chinese government also stated that Australia, by revoking visas for its scholars, is politicising and stigmatising normal exchanges.
“The Australians have found or suspect they are not just scholars” and are “more than scholars”, Gupta said, adding that what the Chinese want is a restoration of the Labour government in Australia “because Labour was much friendlier to China”.
Other grievances include Australia’s statement to the UN on the South China sea, “raids on Chinese journalists” and the allegations of human rights violations on Uighurs in Xinjiang province.
The implications for Australia
“Now this is really like a charge sheet and sovereign countries don’t do such stuff to each other. And even if they do, they do it softly behind closed doors or confidential memo exchange,” Gupta said.
But, by releasing this letter out in the open, the Chinese wanted to build pressure on the Scott Morrisson government, which is already facing the heat from the Labour party. ” So this government should not stand on ego and bend over backwards…and bend its relationship with China,” he said.
Australia responded by forming a security arrangement with Japan. As a part of this accord, Japan has agreed to have Australian troops on its soil, which the “Chinese see as trouble”.
But this might come at a cost for Australia.
Referring to scholar Yun Lei’s article in the Global Times titled ‘Australia overestimates its influence to ‘counter China’ in Southeast Asia’, Gupta states, “Now, what the Chinese have done to Australia is they have attacked Australia’s exports to China, including Australian beef, wine, barley, lobsters, timber…China imported $850 million worth of goods from Australia last year, which is 40% of all its goods.”
He added, “China now being a big economic power also has this big leverage that if you don’t listen to me, you can join your Five Eyes but I can also start punishing you on trade.”
Despite this, Australia has said that it will not give in to any of the 14 demands listed by China.
How Xi Jinping ‘blew it’
Gupta then goes on to talk about how Xi Jinping has actually lost a big opportunity in all this wrangling, a conclusion he draws from Michael Schuman’s article for The Atlantic.
The article argues that the world at any point needs a few statesmen, but since Donald Trump could not have become that “there was a vacuum in the world”.
“And it was the best opportunity for the leader of the strongest, the most dominant rising power in the world — China — to grow into that slot. But Xi Jinping has blown it,” Gupta said while further drawing from the article.
Among the reasons why is his conclusion that China’s political system is ill-suited to be a global superpower for which “you need to use a lot of soft power”, flexibility and strategy.
He concluded with data from Pew Research that shows that global attitudes towards China are not favourable. “Now is China bothered? Is Xi Jinping bothered? Doesn’t seem so,” Gupta said.
Watch the full episode of CTC here: