Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 24 March 2021


US attacks China’s economic bullying of Australia

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Picture: AFP
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Picture: AFP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called-out China’s “blatant economic coercion of Australia” and urged allies to stand together in signalling to Beijing that “bullying” doesn’t work.

In a major speech at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Mr Blinken warned “Beijing’s military ambitions are growing by the year” and outlined the need for democratic nations to work more closely in the areas of cyber security and critical resources, markets and technologies.

Identifying the three key threats facing democratic nations and allies, Mr Blinken said the first was the growing military capabilities of China and Russia.

Mr Blinken’s address came just hours after China launched a fresh assault against the Morrison government with senior Foreign Ministry and embassy officials accusing Canberra of lacking “accountability” over alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and suggesting the US, Britain and European Union should “consider sanctions” against Australia.

He called for a unified approach in taking on China.

“We see this in China’s efforts to threaten freedom of navigation, to militarise the South China Sea, to target countries throughout the Indo-Pacific with increasingly sophisticated military capabilities,” Mr Blinken said.

“We also see this in the new military capabilities and strategies Russia has developed to challenge our alliances and undermine the rules based order that ensures our collective security.

“These include Moscow’s aggression in the eastern Ukraine. It’s build-up of forces, large scale exercises, and acts of intimidation in the Baltic and Black Sea, the eastern Mediterranean, the high north. It’s modernisation of nuclear capabilities, and its use of chemical weapons against critics on NATO soil.”

Beyond China and Russia, Mr Blinken singled out Iran and North Korea over their pursuit of nuclear and missile capabilities “that threaten US allies and partners”.

Mr Blinken said the same countries were strengthening their non-military capacity, using “technological, economic, and informational tactics” to threaten global security.

“These include the use of disinformation campaigns, and weaponised corruption, to fuel distrust in our democracies. And cyber attacks that target out critical infrastructure and steal intellectual property,” he said.

“From China’s blatant economic coercion of Australia to Russia’s use of disinformation to erode confidence in elections and in safe, effective vaccines. These aggressive actions threaten not only our individual countries but also our shared values.”

Mr Blinken said “what separates democracies from autocracies is our ability and willingness to openly confront our own shortcomings, not to pretend they don’t exist, to ignore them, to sweep them under the rug”.

He said Beijing and Moscow were “increasingly using access to critical resources, markets and technologies to pressure our allies and drive wedges between us”.

“But we must not separate economic coercion from other forms of pressure. When one of us is coerced, we should respond as allies and work together to reduce our vulnerability by ensuring our economies are more integrated with each other than they are with our principal competitors.”

Mr Blinken said the Biden administration would not force US allies into “an us or them choice with China”.

“There’s no question that Beijing’s coercive behaviour threatens our collective security and prosperity and that it is actively working to undercut the rules of the international system and the values we and our allies share. But that doesn’t mean countries can’t work with China where possible.”

“For example on challenges like climate change and health security. We know our allies have complex relationships with China that won’t always align perfectly.”

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