'China Hawks' and 'Panda Huggers,' China causing an uproar in Australian politics

China is using economic clout to threaten Australia's wine and beef industries, as Australia's lawmakers consider legislation targeting Chinese influence and espionage in the country

Foreign Ministers Julie Bishop and Wang Yi (Top: Chinese Foreign Ministry, Bottom: Julie Bishop Twitter acct.)

Foreign Ministers Julie Bishop and Wang Yi (Top: Chinese Foreign Ministry, Bottom: Julie Bishop Twitter acct.)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – China is reportedly blocking shipments of Australian wine at its ports, using the product to exercise the economic power of the Chinese market to coerce political concessions from the Australian government.

Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates, one of the largest wine producers in the world, last week reported that its wine was being delayed or blocked from entering China because of new verification and certification procedures implemented in April, and which are thought to be politically motivated.

Australia is in the midst of a political debate concerning foreign influence in politics and the threat of espionage activity within the country’s government, business sectors and in academia. Many Australian’s are growing weary of what they see as undue and unchecked Chinese influence.

Canberra is currently considering a series of legislative actions aimed at countering such activity, which according to the Wall Street Journal would “criminalize efforts to interfere in Australian democracy.”

Observers have suggested that China is using its economic clout to pressure Australian politicians into blocking the legislation.

When asked about the accusation that Australian products were being specifically targeted Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang issued a coy denial at a Friday press briefing stating that:

“According to what we know of the situation, it can be said that the Chinese customs and relevant import inspection and quarantine departments are handling the relevant entry applications according to normal procedures.”

This statement however comes on the heels of a meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop at a G20 meeting in Argentina, in which Wang said that Australia needed “take off the tinted glasses” so that the countries’ relations could get back on the right track.

The Chinese state-run propaganda blog, the Global Times, also published an article that China ought to “teach Australia a lesson” by cutting total Australian imports significantly, perhaps by as much as US$10 billion.

According to The Drinks Business, wine exports from Australia to China surpassed US$808 million in 2017 which accounts for almost half of Australia’s entire foreign wine market.

However, as Australian media point out, the issue of wine imports and beef imports is just one aspect of a serious problem. The political situation in Canberra appears to be reaching a boiling point on the topic of China, with a turbulent week for China relations.

On Thursday last week, Australia’s top intelligence official boldly stated before the Australian Senate that China represents an unprecedented threat of Foreign influence in the country.

Last Friday, the Sydney Morning Herald published an article stating that a deep divide and partisanship on the topic of China was rapidly forming among lawmakers with groups being characterized as “either China hawks or panda huggers.”

As the article notes “this is just the start” of a long row between Australian politicians, one that they must settle among themselves if there is any hope of effectively confronting the problems China poses for Australia’s politics and its economy.