Australia is more strategically dependent on China than its Five Eyes partner nations across key economic sectors, according to a new report by London-based think tank The Henry Jackson Society.
The report titled “Breaking the China Supply Chain” finds that the Five Eyes nations are dependent on China in 831 categories of strategically important goods.
Australia surpasses its allies by being dependent on China in 167 categories of goods that service the “Critical 11” sectors including health, energy, transportation, water, banking, information technology, government facilities, food, emergency services, critical manufacturing, and communications.
This number is concerning as a shortage in the supply of these goods would threaten Australia’s security and prosperity, according to the report.
The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed concern over the weekend about the potential risk to Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure due to the Victorian state’s Belt and Road partnership with Beijing.
Pompeo told Sky News on May 24: “We will not take any risk to our telecommunications infrastructure, any risk to national security elements with our Five Eyes partners. We are going to protect and preserve the security of those institutions,” Pompeo said.
Following Pompeo’s remarks, U.S. Ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse Jr. issued a statement May 24 to “set the record straight”.
“The United States has absolute confidence in the Australian government’s ability to protect the security of its telecommunications networks and those of its Five Eyes partners,” he said.
Culvahouse said the U.S. has made no secret of its concerns about the security risks to 5G networks, but commended Australia’s “leadership on the issue”.
“We are not aware that Victoria has engaged in any concrete projects under BRI, let alone projects impinging on telecommunications networks, which we understand are a federal matter.”
Pompeo also warned Australia that projects that form part of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) need to be looked at carefully, and every project from BRI had a “cost to it.”
“Often money is loaned at concessional rates, or conditions are placed in debt documents, or government concessions have to be made to the Chinese Communist Party in order to get those (BRI) projects built,” Pompeo said.
“(They) present real risks to the people, and real risk to the country. Frankly, they build up the capacity of the (CCP) to do harm in other ways as well.”
Trading Human Rights for Strategic Partnerships
In its foreword, the report says that for 30 years Western countries had hoped that strategic partnerships with the Chinese regime would encourage it to move towards democracy.
“In fact, if anything, China has become steadily more authoritarian,” the report states.
This has serious implications for Australia and its Five Eyes partner nations the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand.
The research reviewed each Five Eyes nations’ dependency on China across 5,910 sets of data drawn from the United Nations International Statistics Database.
The findings highlight sobering vulnerability to Chinese economic pressure and resonate with a growing global call to decouple from China’s economy, as more countries come to see China’s communist regime as a threat to their prosperity and security amid the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, commonly known as novel coronavirus.
One strong message the paper delivers is that time has come to depart from the illusion that “by trading and engaging ever more closely with China, it would open up and move towards democracy over time.”
The report argues that the globalisation the Five Eyes nations have been advocating for since World War II has led to a situation that allows China to accumulate a dangerous degree of strategic power.
One of the consequences is that “China’s relations with much of the democratic world are now characterised by ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’ (crude bullying and threats, often made on social media) and contempt for the rule of law.”
As an illustrative example, the paper revealed that “On the day after the discharge of Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, from hospital following a life-threatening COVID-19 infection, pressure was applied to the UK government to recommit to accepting Huawei into the UK’s 5G network.”
However, the western democracies are partly blamed for the situation by appeasing the authoritarian regimes, as the paper hints.
One incisive question raised is “whether our dependency on China—as well as our desire to solicit further investment from them—has led us to stay quiet on human rights.”
“At times, we sat idly by, as the Chinese Communist Party has persecuted the Uyghurs, the Tibetan people, the Falun Gong, Hong Kong, lawyers, activists, and above all its own people,” the paper pointed out.
The implication is clear.
“The time has arrived for us to make trade and investment decisions with thought not just on finances but on security and human rights.”