Western Australia Leader Laments Lack of ‘Appreciation’ for China From Eastern States

Western Australia Leader Laments Lack of ‘Appreciation’ for China From Eastern States
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan during a press conference in Perth, Australia, on Feb 4, 2021. (Matt Jelonek/Getty Images)
Daniel Y. Teng

Western Australian (WA) Premier Mark McGowan has lauded the state’s relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) while lamenting the lack of appreciation from Australia’s eastern states for the country’s trading ties with China.

His comments come amid ongoing tensions in the Australia-China relationship due to Beijing-instigated foreign interference, industrial-scale cyberattacks, and economic coercion.

“It has been a large part of the economic success and the cultural success of our state and our country for 50 years, and in particular over the last two years,” he said at an Oct. 1 event commemorating the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the CCP hosted by the China Australia Business Council in Perth.

Also present was mining magnate and billionaire, Andrew Forrest.

“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.”

McGowan also touted WA’s role in supporting the national economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was hit hard by lockdowns, health restrictions, and border closures.

“A large amount of our exports to go to China, in fact, the majority, and we are the nation’s biggest exporting state,” he said, noting that WA kept key export industries open during the pandemic. “For other states that don’t export much, they don’t really get that.”

Chinese Consul General to WA, Long Dingbin, said that in the six months since he arrived in Perth (in April), he witnessed McGowan’s “strong leadership” for bringing the pandemic under control.

“And I am very glad to see that we are having a strong relationship between China and Australia,” he told attendees.

“I think all of us should do something for the 50th anniversary,” he said. “Let’s join hands together with endless effort for a smooth and healthy development of the China-Australia relationship, which is beneficial for both of us, as well as the Asia Pacific region.”

Around 54.7 percent of WA’s exports go to China, making it the state’s largest trading partner by far, outstripping the second-largest trading partner Japan, which only received 8.4 percent of exports.

China’s demand for iron ore, and the escalating price of the mineral, has been a boon for the state’s coffers, which in turn, has helped to keep Australia’s economic performance looking firm amid ongoing COVID-19-related restrictions.
It has also instilled confidence in the McGowan government to continue pursuing an “elimination” or zero-COVID strategy to deal with any virus outbreaks, including immediately closing the border off to travellers from states where infections arise.
The strategy, and rhetoric, have proven popular—tapping into the state’s secessionist tendencies—and partly contributed to the Labor government’s landslide victory in the March elections.

McGowan’s latest criticism comes as the federal government toughens its stance against CCP aggression in the region, including a military build-up in the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait.

Federal ministers, including the prime minister, defence minister, and foreign minister, have worked to shore up foreign alliances with the newly minted AUKUS deal and continuing work with the Quadrilateral Security Alliance.

Meanwhile, the governments of the largest “eastern states” of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victorian governments have had limited activity in the realm of foreign policy, except for Victoria’s Belt and Road Initiative with Beijing.