In a latest Australian-made TV political thriller known as Secret Metropolis, a cyber-attack paralyses the nation’s air site visitors management system. Authorities instantly (and incorrectly) level the finger at Chinese language hackers.
It is a storyline that is telling about Australia’s perspective to Asia’s pre-eminent energy. On the one hand, China is the nation’s greatest buying and selling companion, nevertheless it additionally poses a possible regional army menace that is drawing the eye of the US, Australia’s closest defence ally.
China, for its half, seems keenly conscious of Australia’s obvious reluctance to embrace it totally. In latest months, a sequence of bilateral irritations have despatched relations between the 2 international locations plunging to their lowest level for practically a decade.
China has rebuked Australia for opposing its army build-up within the South China Sea. Australia has blocked Chinese language funding bids, ostensibly on nationwide safety grounds. A Chinese language newspaper denounced Australia as a “paper cat that will not final”. Even the international locations’ Olympians are combating with each other.
When Australia’s census web site crashed this month, throwing the nationwide survey into chaos, hypothesis a couple of Chinese language cyber-attack ran rife. Peter Cai, a analysis fellow on the Lowy Institute for Worldwide Coverage, says it’s one other illustration of the “troubled state of the connection”,
Whereas the US has been Australia’s important ally within the Asia-Pacific since World Conflict Two, China has been central to the nation’s prosperity and its weathering of two world recessions.
However the balancing act which Australia has managed to carry out has grown more and more difficult of late. The US has switched its focus to the Asia-Pacific simply as China asserts sovereignty over a lot of the South China Sea.
Final month, Beijing accused the US, Australia and Japan of “fanning the flames” of regional tensions, after the three issued a forthright assertion urging China to respect a global court docket ruling rejecting these claims.
Tensions have spilled out past the diplomatic world. Throughout the Rio Olympics, hundreds of Chinese language took to social media to lambast Australian swimmer Mack Horton, who branded China’s Solar Yang a “drug cheat” after the latter splashed him throughout a coaching session.
Energy video games
After which there’s the problem of direct Chinese language funding in Australia. Treasurer Scott Morrison has rebuffed two overseas funding bids – one from Chinese language government-owned State Grid, the opposite from Hong Kong-based Cheung Kong Infrastructure – for a 50.four% stake in Ausgrid, which operates the electrical energy community in New South Wales state.
Mr Morrison insists home political issues performed no half in his determination, which adopted his earlier rejection of a Chinese language bid for the huge Kidman cattle station.
Nonetheless, some have famous that following the federal election in July the Senate accommodates seven pro-protectionist crossbenchers. And though Australia signed a free commerce settlement with China final yr, there may be rising fashionable antipathy to Chinese language possession of Australian agricultural land and actual property.
Mr Morrison declined to spell out the safety issues behind the Ausgrid determination, which left some observers scratching their heads – not least as a result of the 2 Chinese language firms already personal components of the facility grid in different states. Because the information web site Crikey noticed, in relation to State Grid: “If it is a nationwide safety danger, as Morrison claims it’s, then we’re already screwed.”
China’s official Xinhua information company warned in an English-language editorial that the Ausgrid knockback might result in “a poisonous mindset of China-phobia”, including: “To recommend that China would attempt to kidnap the nation’s electrical energy community for ulterior motives is absurd and nearly comical.”
Australian-Chinese language relations haven’t but plumbed the depths to which they fell in 2009, when Australian businessman Stern Hu was arrested in China on spying costs. However Mr Cai believes they may deteriorate additional if, as an example, Australia joins the US in freedom of navigation workout routines within the South China Sea.
Professor Richard Rigby, a veteran China-watcher on the Australian Nationwide College, notes that Australia has two China narratives: the financial one, which noticed two-way commerce improve ten-fold to A$100bn (£58bn) between 2002 and 2012, and the nationwide safety narrative.
“However we have not been good in any respect at bridging them,” he mentioned.