Saturday, February 13, 2021

China loses trust of some its closest allies after punishing Australia

I predicted this. China had been on a charm offensive to the rest of the world and that made sense. But it just needed Morrison to utter a sharp rebuke to China over the coronavirus for Xi to lose it and try to punish Australia. Xi could very easily have simply ignored Australia so Xi must have been thin-skilled to react as nastily as he did.

At any event China has now lost what it had been aiming for -- a good "face". It is now seen as a bully and there is no obvious way back from that. Instead of respect China has now generated hostility to itself

China is losing the trust and respect of some of its closest allies and neighbours who are increasingly worried about the superpower following its punitive trade embargoes against Australia.

Beijing’s anti-Australia measures like blocking our coal have already backfired on a number of fronts, with coal supplies running out, residents struggling to heat their homes in the coldest winter in 50 years, and Australian exports booming as other economies like Japan and India fill the void.

Michael Shoebridge, the director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) Defence, Strategy and National Security Program, told the measures were “not about Australia”, rather they were about sending a message to the world — that smaller countries should not dare go against China’s interests.

He said China is even prepared to let its own people suffer to make a point.

But if China is trying to impress other nations with its tough stance, it is failing miserably according to damning new survey of its closest neighbours.

The study from the think tank ISEAS canvassed views from 1032 academics, policymakers, business people, civil society leaders, the media as well as regional and international organisations from 10 ASEAN member states — which have a combined population of 655.51 million people — and it raises significant concerns for China.

Despite Donald Trump ruffling feathers on a global scale over the past four years, more than six in 10 respondents now say they would choose the United States over China if the grouping was forced to align with either power.

This is an increase from last year’s survey, where 53.6 per cent were in favour of the US. In contrast, only 38.5 per cent chose China, down from 46.4 per cent last year.

Nations like Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines said they their support for the US over China has increased.

In a slap in the face to China’s economic posturing against Australia, only military-run Myanmar, Brunei and Laos now say they prefer working with the Asian superpower.

The survey found that although China was overwhelmingly regarded as the most influential economic power in the region, the people who live there are not happy about it.

Among those who see China as the most influential economic power, 72.3 per cent are “worried about its growing regional economic influence”.

Respondents were also asked if they had confidence that China will do “the right thing” to contribute to global peace, security, prosperity and governance. This year, 63 per cent said they either had little confidence or no confidence that China would do the “right thing”.

The simmering distrust had increased from 51.5 per cent in 2019 to 60.4 per cent last year.

Researchers directly linked the Asian superpower’s economic showboating with the decline in trust, combined with its increasing military power.

The respondents saw these factors as a potential threat to their respective country’s interest and sovereignty.

“The region’s best hope is for China to take the mantle of leadership in a manner that does not impinge on the sovereignty and strategic autonomy of its neighbouring countries,” said the researchers.

Here in Australia, the ASPI’s Mr Shoebridge said the results show that China’s economic muscle-flexing with Australia was spectacularly backfiring.

“It shows that China is losing trust on a global stage, and that trust in America has risen,” he said. “It proves to me that other smaller nations are looking at how China has treated Australia and they do not like what they are seeing.”

The trade stand-off is having worrying repercussions for China domestically too, with an eye-watering surge in prices for coal, supply shortages and its residents struggling to heat their homes in the coldest winter in 50 years.

In a desperate bid to shore up its supplies, the government has curtailed electricity to businesses to make sure there’s enough supply for home heating – leading to a surge in orders for portable generators and extra demand for the diesel that fuels them.

Not only is the coal shortage affecting everyday citizens, it is hitting China’s industries hard as factories are forced to use poor-quality domestic coal.

Steel mills in particular were reliant on using high-grade Australian premium hard coking coal – a crucial raw material for steel making.

Now they are forced to use expensive low-quality coal that is highly polluting to nearby residents. It also damages the equipment used in the process and can lead to the production of brittle steel products.

In other circumstances, they have been forced to pay steep premiums for imports from farther afield – like US, Russia, Canada and Mongolia – on top of prices that have risen 84 per cent since mid-year, according to the The Wall Street Journal .

In a further slap in the face for China, its punitive measures designed to hurt Australia have had precisely the opposite effect. Other major buyers like Japan and India have stepped in to fill the void, and Australia’s coal prices have boomed.

Another additional unofficial Chinese ban on imports of Australian-mined copper imposed in November may also come back to bite China.

The South China Morning Post reports that the superpower is facing a potential shortage with disruptions in the production and transport of copper from key producer Peru.

Mr Shoebridge said it was clear China didn’t care about the impact of the trade stand-off on its own people. “They claim to be doing this on behalf of the Chinese people, but clearly that’s not what it’s about. Chinese people want coal for the winter to heat their homes,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“But I don’t think they are bothered by Chinese people not having energy to heat their homes because they don’t want to course on their message to the rest of the world.”


Biden confronted China in call to Xi - and that’s good for Australia

If anyone was unsure whether Joe Biden would adopt a hard line on China, his first phone call with Xi Jinping should leave no one in doubt.

Biden’s posture on China, so far, has been good for Australia.

There seemed to be a view floating around in sections of the Australian commentariat in recent weeks that Biden’s re-engagement with Beijing could leave Canberra in the dark.

Former public service chief Martin Parkinson on Wednesday said the election of the new US President would make it even more difficult for Australia to manage its deteriorating relationship with Beijing because the US had maintained open channels of dialogue.

But in his phone call with the Chinese President this week, Biden criticised Beijing for its “coercive and unfair economic practices”. This has been widely interpreted within the Morrison government as Biden standing up for countries such as Australia that have been hit by trade strikes from Beijing for standing up to its coercive behaviour.

Biden also underscored his fundamental concerns about China’s “crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan”.

It is worth comparing the readout of Biden’s call with that of his predecessor, Donald Trump, four years ago.

In his first chat with Xi, Trump made no mention of Xinjiang or Taiwan. In fact, it contained no criticism of China at all.

The White House readout said: “Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honour our ‘one China’ policy”. The discussion was described as “extremely cordial” and both leaders looked forward to “further talks with very successful outcomes”.

The stark difference between the two calls is partly due to the centre of gravity in Washington shifting immensely over the past four years on the question of how to deal with China’s rise.

Biden has shown from the outset that while he is prepared to have constructive engagement with Beijing, certain topics are non-negotiable. These include China’s democratic crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, militarisation of the South China Sea and growing assertiveness against Taiwan.

This is what Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan and Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell have called “competition and cooperation”.

What many didn’t grasp, if they weren’t paying attention during the US Presidential campaign, was the display of strength Biden planned to show towards China.

None of this is to say Biden’s approach will provide a silver bullet for the Morrison government to improve relations with its biggest trading partner. Australia is in the diplomatic freezer and needs to find a way out on its own.

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Scott Morrison reaffirmed the alliance between the US and Australia during a phone call today.

But it is in Australia’s interests to have an America that accepts the optimistic assumptions underpinning the four-decade-long strategy of diplomatic and economic engagement with China have failed, and that the US is now in competition with Beijing.

This competitive posture needs to be pursued in a way that is strategic, coordinated with allies and avoids confrontation and potentially conflict.


International students receive exemptions to travel to Australia for study

More than 1000 international students have quietly been allowed to “jump the queue” and enter Australia during COVID-19, while a whopping 40,000 Aussies remain stranded overseas.

Figures obtained by NCA NewsWire reveal the Australian Border Force Commissioner has granted 1050 foreign nationals an exemption from Australia’s international travel ban since the start of August.

The federal opposition has blasted the decision, saying the 40,000 Australians should be Scott Morrison’s priority.

“Instead he’s letting international students and business investor visa holders jump the queue,” Labor senator Kristina Keneally said.

“If Scott Morrison had implemented a national quarantine plan from the beginning of this pandemic, Australia would be in a position to safely welcome international students without their arrival coming at the expense of stranded Australians.”

An Australian Border Force spokeswoman said people seeking an exemption must provide evidence of a “compelling case” and meet exemption categories, which includes students in their final two years of study of a medical, dental, nursing or allied health profession university degree.

Those students must also have a confirmed placement at an Australian hospital or medical practice that starts within the next two months.

One university in the Group of Eight had at least half of their 65 international medical students granted a travel exemption.

Group of Eight chief executive, Vicki Thomson, said the universities had provided supporting evidence for students that fitted the exemption criteria.

She said about 600 international graduates entered the workforce every year but COVID-19 had caused serious disruptions.

“If medical students can’t get back into the country, then this will impact the pipeline of new doctors into the system over the next few years,” Ms Thomson said. “There will be a shortfall.”
She said there was also a risk that if international students deferred their studies now, the intern system would not be able to handle the influx when they returned.

A Universities Australia spokesman said some PhD students may have also received exemptions on the grounds they must return to complete research critical to their degree.

International Education Association of Australia chief executive Phil Honeywood welcomed the limited travel exemptions made available.

However, he said they were only the “tip of the iceberg” compared to the number of third and fourth year students that remained offshore.

“Whether it be travel challenges or gaining approval for the exemptions, we are still way behind competitor countries such as Canada, the UK and New Zealand,” Mr Honeywood said.

Nursing degrees are popular among international students from South Asia, while dentistry and medicine attracted students from across the globe.

High commissions are also understood to have written supporting letters to boost student exemption applications.

But Mr Honeywood said he was aware of dentistry students in Canada that were unable to return to their Melbourne University courses.

Education Minister Alan Tudge was last week asked if a cohort of international students should come to Australia.
“Our priority from a national government is on bringing Australians home,” Mr Tudge said. He did not respond for comment about the exemptions.

More than 210,000 people have returned to Australia through hotel quarantine arrangements.

At least 35,000 foreign nationals have been granted an exemption to travel to Australia since the March ban to January 31.

Sixty-three students arrived in Darwin under an international student trial held in November last year.

South Australia is also planning to bring in up to 300 students in pilot early this year.


Microsoft president says the US should make Google and Facebook pay publishers for news like Australia

Microsoft has urged the US to consider a version of a proposed Australian law that would force Google and Facebook to pay publishers for news because it would 'strengthen democracy' and 'support a free press'.

The Australian law would have Google and Facebook give internet publishers an indeterminate fee for including links to news articles on their platforms.

News publishers say it's unfair that Google and Facebook get to run the links for free, boosting their own traffic and in turn making more money through ad sales.

According to Australian watchdogs, for every $100 spent on online advertising, Google gets $53 and Facebook gets $28.

The proposal hasn't yet been adopted but is being heralded as a solution to the declining ad revenues newspapers and outlets face, especially after a crippling economic year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Google is fighting it in court. The company is even threatening to pull out of the country if the law is passed. It has proposed an alternative - News Showcase - where it would select stories from news outlets to project and pay them only for those stories. Facebook says it will stay in Australia but is considering stopping users there from being able to share news stories on their accounts.

Microsoft, which runs a rival internet search engine Bing, has vowed to stay, pay the fees - even though it wouldn't be bound to by the law - and, in turn, take over the market if Google leaves. Microsoft already pays media outlets through licensing deals with MSN.

The Silicon Valley giants have traded insults over the issue for weeks and on Thursday, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith delivered the latest blow, saying not only should Australia go ahead with the law but that the US ought to make one of its own. 'The United States should not object to a creative Australian proposal that strengthens democracy by requiring tech companies to support a free press. It should copy it instead

'What is wrong with compensating independent news organizations for the benefits the tech gatekeepers derive from this content?' Smith wrote.

He said that Google and Facebook have a 'bargaining imbalance' that favors them and crushes others, and that President Joe Biden should not intervene on their behalf in Australia if he's asked to.

'Australia’s proposal will reduce the bargaining imbalance that currently favors tech gatekeepers and will help increase opportunities for independent journalism. But this a defining issue of our time, going to the heart of our democratic freedoms.'

Smith hinged his arguments on the recent Capitol riot and said America's democracy is more fragile then ever. 'As the dust slowly settles on a horrifying assault on the Capitol, it’s apparent that American democracy is in a fragile state...Technology has been both a positive and negative force for democracy...

'Without new and greater restraints, there is a growing risk that more politicians and advocates will exploit the algorithms and business models underlying social media and the internet to turn disinformation into a new political tactic of choice.

'There is another side of this disease, and it’s the erosion of more traditional, independent and professional journalism,' he said.

After Google threatened to remove itself from Australia if the law is imposed, Smith and Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella contacted the government there and made it clear that they would stay and be happy to abide by it.

Microsoft would clean up if Google left the country. Now, it controls just 5 percent share of the market there, while Google dominates. But if Google left, Microsoft would stand to soak up the internet users it abandoned.

Another side of the argument that is drawing ire is that if Google leaves, the many businesses that rely on it for advertising could fail.

Google hit back at the Smith's comments and said that it does support a free press, but wants to know what it's paying for.

'We’re not against providing support to the industry. The question is, what are we paying for? 'And are those arrangements structured in a way that is fair and equitable to the full ecosystem of publishers as well as to our commercial deals with those publishers?' Richard Gingras, vice president of news at Google, told Bloomberg.

Australian lawmakers have said the law is needed to help media firms stay afloat and so will press forward despite the threat, which Google formalized in a securities filing last week that stated forced bargaining 'could result in our having to alter or withdraw products and services'.

Final passage of the legislation could come as early as next week.

Google is pitching its own payment program with terms it can better control, and last month reached a deal with major publishers in France as well as Reuters.

In Australia, Google users, advertisers and business partners have begun to worry about losing Google, which has a 94% share of the country’s search market.

The interconnected nature of Google’s products means that devices including Android phones, Chromebook laptops and Nest smart speakers could be impaired without search.

'If Google’s search function no long longer exists in Australia, that will remove a lot of the features I use on Google Nest,' said Margaret Morgan, a screenwriter from Sydney who keeps a speaker in most rooms of her house and owns a Google Pixel smartphone.




1 comment:

Paul said...

"Xi must have been thin-skilled to react as nastily as he did."

Absolutely right, and China, as run before Xi by faceless committees, wouldn't really have reacted in a personalised manner like this. Xi is as cunning as a shithouse bat, but he is not well educated, according to my Chinese colleagues which makes him dangerous to China as well as to us.

(She reckons he's six-grade level, and most Chinese don't look kindly on him)