China’s bullying tactics backfire in Australia

China USA Australia CartoonChina’s new leader, Xi Jinping, has revived Chairman Mao‘s doctrine of the “mass line”. The founder of modern China didn’t want the masses to have a vote, but he did think that it was vitally important to understand their views.

The “mass line” in Australia today contains an important message to Canberra, and to Beijing. More than a message to Beijing, it’s a challenge.

It’s contained in an opinion poll published on Monday by the Lowy Institute and it says three things very clearly.

First, the Australian people fully understand the historic scale and power of China’s rise. Three-quarters of people polled said the most important economy to Australia is China’s.

And the people know that, eventually, this means China will overtake America to become the world’s leading superpower. Six in 10 Australians foresee this.

Second, this does not make the people starry-eyed about China. Rather, Australians are increasingly wary of your country, Comrade Jinping.

Nearly six in 10 – 57 per cent – think the federal government allows too much Chinese investment.

And while most don’t think China is likely to be a military threat, a solid proportion of 41 per cent think it will be.

And the level of reassurance is falling. A year ago 58 per cent saw China as an unlikely military threat, whereas today that’s slipped to 54 per cent.

The overall measure of Australians’ “warmth” towards China is captured in the Lowy Institute’s “thermometer,” a gauge measuring how positively people feel towards a range of countries. Last year China was ranked eighth with a warmth of 59 degrees out of a possible 100, just under Malaysia and just above India. This year it comes in equal 13th with 54, below India and equal with Sri Lanka. But hold on – isn’t that just a result of the pernicious influence of the Australian media and Barnaby Joyce-style populism? Perhaps.

But there must be something else going on because the people’s impression of China has slipped in some other countries over the past year too, as measured by a poll for the BBC World Service released last month.

The annual BBC poll asked people whether China’s influence on the world was “mostly positive” or “mostly negative”. Of 25 countries ranked in the poll, China fell from fifth place last year to ninth this year. It was China’s lowest ranking in the eight years of the poll’s life.

It not only found that China slipped in the eyes of people in countries including France, Spain, India, Japan, the US and South Africa, it’s also fallen in China itself, by 8 percentage points.

A minority of the Chinese people themselves consider their country to be a positive influence in the world.

Professor Qiao Mu, of Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the BBC poll rating had put China in an “embarrassing” position.

“It seems China is getting rich fast but its influence ranking is dropping dramatically,” he told the South China Morning Post. “China is drawing more attention globally, for its increasing foreign aid and participation in international affairs, but now it turns out that the values and the political system China holds are not accepted by the world.”

He misses the obvious point. China’s values and political system had not changed from the year before. The new development was Beijing’s increasingly muscular stance in territorial disputes with its neighbours, including Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Like the people of other countries, Australians understand China’s rising power and are apprehensive of its intentions. That, apparently, leads to the third conclusion from the Lowy poll – Australians are seeking reassurance from their alliance with the US.

Overwhelming approval for Australia’s US alliance continues, much as it has for 50 years, with 82 per cent in support. This is as close as you get to consensus on any matter.

And while that’s down by 5 points over the year, support for the most recent intensification of the alliance is up; public approval for the deployment of US Marines to the Northern Territory strengthened by 6 percentage points to 61. The number opposed fell by 9 points to 34 per cent.

The Obama administration’s “Asia pivot” is designed to offer reassurance to the Asia-Pacific as anxiety about China rises. Last week the new top US official for East Asia, Danny Russel, said that there’s no place for “coercion and bullying” in the region’s seas.

He rejected China’s policy of refusing to deal with the 10 nations of ASEAN collectively in crafting a code of conduct for disputes – Beijing prefers to deal one-on-one to intimidate the smaller states.

Russel described this as “unacceptable”. In this he has the support of almost every country in the entire Asia-Pacific, with the possible exception of China’s vassal state of Cambodia.

Australians are realistic enough to see that they don’t need to choose between the current superpower and the future one, or, at least, not now. Asked whether it’s possible for Australia to have a good relationship with the US and China at the same time, 87 per cent said yes.

This is a contrast to the near-panic on this question in elite circles. The public attitude is relaxed and demonstrably correct.

Because while Australia has embraced the US Marine deployment, it’s also signed up to an annual leaders-level meeting with Beijing and hosts more Chinese foreign investment than any other country on Earth. But if the people are forced to choose, the Lowy poll tells us which way they’d jump. Asked which relationship is more important to Australia overall, 37 per cent nominated the China partnership and 48 per cent the American.

So the challenge to you, Comrade Jinping, is clear if you are going to take the “mass line” seriously. The assertiveness of your regime is backfiring. It is not awing the Australian people with China’s greatness; it is driving the Australian people closer to your competitor, the US.

And if you force the Australian people to choose, you will not like their decision.

Source: The Age – China’s bullying tactics backfire by Peter Hartcher
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6 replies

  1. China has adopted some self-aggrandizing and unwise diplomatic tactics recently. This is the exactly the consequence I expected.


  2. First, China has never bullied Australia. Most of the content of the article is correct but the title is wrong.

    China is indeed becoming increasingly unpopular in Western countries.

    Second, what shall Chinese people do to make them not so unpopular in other countries. They have to improve their behaviors and shall not be rude or ignore other countries’ rules or ethics when they travel abroad.

    Third, what shall Chinese government do? Isolation may be better. However, that is impossible as other countries are trying to restrain China.

    Neither China nor those countries are to complain. The problems lie deeply in the conflict of civilizations which according to American gifted political Scientist Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations may lead to a war between the United States and China.

    Some people have tried to deny such clash, but has 911 not proved that. By denying it, the United States has failed to deal with the root cause: Islamic radicals’ hatred against the United States. As a result, US people live in constant fear of terrorist attack.

    Fourth, who is bullying who?

    In fact, no one is bullying anyone.

    What people regard as bullying originated from the clash of civilizations.

    In my post South China Sea Dispute: Chinese People’s Obsession, I said, “First of all, Chinese people regard as top priority keeping the legacy they have inherited from their ancestors, but such legacy may perhaps be useless or even an expensive burden.”

    Now due to the clash of civilization, such obsession in fact may lead to a war as predicted by Huntington.

    Chinese people regard Taiwan as a part of such legacy. Japan seized it and due to the separation caused by Japanese occupation, some Taiwanese people have been alienated from China and want independence.

    The United States supports them as according to Western values, people have the right to do so, but due to difference in values, almost all Chinese people do not allow that. They support Chinese government’s stance that if Taiwan announces independence, Chinese troops will take Taiwan back by force.

    The US has passed a law that if Taiwan is attacked, US troops will interfere.

    If the US does so, what will be the consequence?

    A war between China and the United States. China has been preparing for such a war even a nuclear one for a long time. There is quite a detailed description of that in my post.

    There is no use to talk about China bullying Taiwan (lots of Western people believe so) or the US bullying China (almost all Chinese people think so).

    Luckily, neither the US nor China wants a war. The US told Taiwan it will not support Taiwan if it declared independence when the pro-independence DPP was in power for 8 years in Taiwan; while China, though refuses to waive its option of a military solution if Taiwan announces independence, has tried its best to win over Taiwan peacefully.

    Now, war is even more possible because of the South and East China Sea disputes. Why Western countries do not regard the Republic of China as aggressive in claiming those islands and even almost the entire South China Sea before communist takeover of the Chinese mainland or Taiwan after the takeover? Chinese people would ask.

    Chinese people do not know that it is understandable that Western people feel threatened when China may become a superpower. That is natural due to the uncertainty. No one knows whether China will become a source of war like sudden rise of Germany in the 20th century.

    US switch of pivot and support for contenders for China’s claim make Chinese people believe that the US is bullying China; while the US and quite a few Western countries believe China is bullying contenders by sticking to its claim.

    In fact, no one is bullying anyone. The misunderstanding is caused by difference in values.

    Westerners have their theory to negate China’s historical grounds for its claim. China refuses to accept Western theory on the ground that it is a colonist theory based on which Western aggressors have taken lots of colonies.

    Will this clash of civilizations lead to a war?

    At least, it has lead to a cold war?

    China’s recent purchase of large amount of Russian oil and lots of most advanced Russian fighter jets and Chinese support for Russia on the Syrian issue are a clear signal that a cold war partnership is taking shape.

    In the Russia-China camp, there will certainly be Iran and some autocracies like Russia and China.

    Do you like that scenario?

    Make allowance for Chinese people’s obsession. Understand that Chinese people will even risk nuclear war to keep their legacy. Try to find a peaceful solution when China is willing to resolve the disputes peacefully. Each country’s dispute with China is different, why insist on a group solution? Why does the US believe that it shall support contenders militarily to force China to accept a group solution?

    If Western countries do not welcome China into their community, they will drive China to Russia’s and other autocracies’ side.

    That is very dangerous.

    Westerners’ enmity will cause Chinese people to rally around the Chinese Communist Party that knows how to exploit such enmity for its popularity. Chinese democracy and human rights fighters will have an increasingly difficult environment because of that!

    Are Westerners really support those fighters or merely exploit those fighters to restrain China? Are you not blocking China’s transformation from an autocracy into a democracy?

    Do not have the illusion that China will not become powerful if it remains an autocracy. When Germany lanched the two world war, it is an autocracy!

    The world can only be safe when China is a democracy!


  3. In economic sociological circles, there has long been a debate about whether markets are arenas of competition or power. Obviously they are a mix of both but regulation and democracy has skewed American and Australian markets to the competition spectrum while the one party system of China has skewed it to power and the use of power in the marketplace is also a feature of its political leadership. I have to be honest and say that the Chinese leadership are not the most diplomatic in the world. Yeah they can drink, make toasts, shake hands for the camera, but threats are the basis of its relationships with its neighbours. I think Australia has largely been spared this largely because of the nature of our interactions, but the arrest of Stern Hu and some of the vilification of Australian mining companies working in China should indicate the need for caution.



  1. South China Sea dispute: Who is bullying who? | China Daily Mail

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