West Australian leader Mark McGowan has earmarked a “reconnection” tour of trading partners Korea, Japan, and China after the state’s international borders are eased next year.
The pledge comes amid ongoing tensions in bilateral Australia-China ties and as Western Australia (WA) prepares to keep its tough border restrictions in place over the Christmas period.
On the weekend, McGowan told the West Australian newspaper that he would jet off to the three countries to bolster trade links.
Currently, China is the state’s largest trade partner by far, accounting for 54.7 percent of WA’s exports—particularly mineral exports—outstripping the second-largest trading partner Japan, which received 8.4 percent of exports.
Premier McGowan has also been vocal in promoting the state’s relationship with Beijing.
In October, McGowan attended an event commemorating the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), where he touted the state’s strong economic performance—driven by China trade—during the lockdown.
“Where would the country have been, but for our strong economic performance here in Western Australia?” he said, according to the ABC. “And I think that perhaps that needs to be better appreciated in the eastern states of Australia.”
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, when questioned on whether McGowan was now the Australian foreign minister, said he hoped residents of Western Australia could also travel.
“We would like to see them open their borders sooner than later, and I don’t see why Western Australia should be any different to the other states and open their borders at the 80 percent vaccination rates,” he told 2GB radio on Nov. 8.
Currently, WA and Tasmania have set the high vaccination benchmark of 90 percent for their populations before loosening border restrictions for travellers.
Meanwhile, Frydenberg played up Australia’s relationship with China but emphasised the need to continue diversifying trade, especially in light of the CCP’s ongoing economic coercion campaign against local exporters.
“Our exporters have been very resilient, robust. They’ve been able to find new markets. It hasn’t, you know, significantly damaged our overall export profile,” he said.
Since April 2020, the CCP has rolled out a series of measures to disrupt Australian exports, including barley, coal, cotton, hay, logs, meat, rock lobsters, and wine, after Foreign Minister Marise Payne called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
Despite increasingly tense relations between Beijing and neighbouring countries, Australian state leaders of WA and Victoria have continued pursuing closer ties with China.
Recently it was revealed that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews paid several companies to attend a major trade show in China connected to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
In April, Foreign Minister Payne—exercising new powers granted under the Foreign Relations Act—ordered the termination of two BRI agreements signed between Premier Andrews and Beijing’s National Development and Reform Commission over concerns around the national interest.
Andrews maintained that the BRI was signed to help create jobs in Victoria.
The BRI is the CCP’s trillion-dollar global infrastructure building fund and arguably the “crown jewel” of Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions.
However, it has been accused of being a “trojan horse,” leaving developing countries heavily in debt and potentially being leveraged for military or spying purposes.