Hungry for raw materials, the Chinese returns to Australian products they previously boycotted. Australian coal a lifeline for China’s energy crisis. Beijing’s economic needs now outweigh geopolitical concerns, such as the growing military synergy between Canberra and Washington.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – China’s “trade war” launched against Australia is a failure. This is testified to by Chinese customs data, which reveal a resumption of purchases of Australian coal, copper, wheat and cotton: all products that the Beijing government had – unofficially – banned from being imported since last year.
The Chinese had also targeted Australian exports with a series of tarriffs levied on key goods for Canberra’s trade, such as wine and barley. Relations between the two governments have been deteriorating for some time. Australians are concerned about China’s growing military activism in the South China Sea, and were among the first to join the Washington-sponsored boycott of Huawei.
Two years ago, Australia also introduced rules limiting foreign (Chinese) interference in its domestic affairs. The tensions reached troubling levels after the Australian government joined other countries in calling for an international investigation into the origin of Covid-19 and China’s handling of the pandemic in April 2020.
Grappling with an energy crisis that threatens its (and the world’s) economy, the Chinese government is ready to unlock a million tons of Australian coal sitting in its bonded warehouses. Limits to domestic supplies of this raw material – still the country’s main source of energy production – and the growth of their price are among the main causes of the power blackouts affecting more than half of China’s provinces. According to several observers, without imports from Australia, China will continue to have problems in finding cheap coal.
Analysts say the likely slowdown in China’s economy will again reduce imports from Australia. Despite the fact that China is the leading buyer of Australian products (with a 28% market share), companies “down under” have managed to save their business by successfully turning to other markets.
The use of trade as a geo-economic tool to bend the will of non-aligned countries is backfiring on Beijing: a sign that economic needs now outweigh geopolitical concerns, such as the growing military synergy between Australia and the USA.
Paradoxically, the resumption of purchases of Australian goods by China comes at a time of maximum “strategic” tension between Beijing and Canberra. With the United States and Great Britain, the Morrison administration has recently launched Aukus, a trilateral military pact which will allow the Australian Navy to have eight nuclear submarines equipped with US technology.
By resorting to “coercive” economic measures against Australia, China is also at risk for another reason: because Canberra could reject its application for entry – and perhaps promote Taiwan’s – to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The free trade agreement is the heir to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) promoted by former US President Barack Obama and scuttled by his successor Donald Trump.