Australian PM Morrison
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China issues fresh threats against Australia

The facts: China has escalated pressure against Australia with an embassy official providing the Australian media with a list of 14 grievances. The complaints relate to Australian government decisions and civil society behavior that has angered China. An official at the Chinese embassy in Canberra gave the list to several major Australian news agencies on November 18. The grievances include Canberra’s effective banning of Huawei from 5G networks, its promotion of an international enquiry into the origins of Covid-19, investment restrictions, laws on scrutinizing agreements made by Australian states, the revoking of visas for Chinese scholars, government funding for a think tank that has conducted critical research on China, media reporting, and more. The move follows growing restrictions on various Australian imports into the Chinese market from October. Australian Ministers have for many months attempted to contact Chinese counterparts for dialogue, without success. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison indicated that Canberra does not intend to give in to Chinese pressure.

What to watch: Despite the damage to China’s international reputation, Beijing does not seem interested in changing course. European countries have, to a different extent, witnessed similar behavior in their bilateral relations with China. Liberal democracies around the world should therefore pay close attention to China’s actions towards Australia. They should build solidarity and create anti-coercion frameworks.

MERICS analysis: “China’s move openly challenges Australian sovereignty and democracy. Its list of grievances is an attempt to interfere with lawful domestic and foreign policy choices, and take aim at independent research, media and free speech. Beijing is demanding the kind of treatment that is far from guaranteed in China itself. Its market and society are highly protected from foreign competition and exchanges,” says MERICS analyst Lucrezia Poggetti.

More on the topic: Read MERICS Chief Economist Max J. Zenglein on mapping and recalibrating Europe’s interdependence with China here.

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This article first appeared in the November 26, 2020 issue of MERICS China Briefing.