Waiting for Godot

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Here is the latest in our “Reflections on 2020” series from Angus M Robinson:

“2020 is likely to be remembered in the annals of Australian history as the year of the great COVID-19 Pandemic and the year in which Australians, not helped by the rhetoric of their national Government, and after decades of relationship building, took a great leap away from the People’s Republic of China, by far Australia’s largest trading partner, and one which had delivered decades of prosperity to millions of Australians.

In 10 years’ time, future historians will find it hard to understand why such an inconceivable act of self-sabotage could have even been entertained, let alone allowed to happen. No doubt they will point to the Australian Government’s call for an international inquiry into the alleged Wuhan pandemic outbreak, and wonder whether or not the banning of Huawei’s 5G communications equipment was the trigger, culminating eventually in China deciding to diversify iron ore imports away from Australia to substantially include alternative suppliers in South America and Africa.

A study of the media reports and commentaries in 2020 will surprise these historians, seeing so much anti-China rhetoric from the nation’s politicians, citing disagreement with China’s human rights record and expressing outrage about the provocative propaganda actions of Chinese diplomats in highlighting Australia’s military record in Afghanistan. They soon discovered that this level of rhetoric was leading many Australians to call for a return to Australian-made goods, a proposition that ignored the fact that competitively priced, Chinese imports of domestic and industrial consumables and components completely dominated the Australian marketplace.

“It’s going to hurt us. But it’s also going to hurt the Chinese people because they’re going to miss out on our products” said one of the Government politicians at the time, the vast majority of whom (including the then Prime Minister) had never even visited China. Failing to realise that operating in global commodity markets is highly competitive, it was soon obvious that Australia was not the only supplier of produce to the world in sectors where Australia had built substantive market penetration, built on the back of establishing ‘people to people’ relationships and confidence as a reliable supplier. Where Australia pulled back, it slowly sunk, with other eager global suppliers, including the USA, gladly stepping in to fill the gap.

Yet, the historians will note that the Australian Trade Minister remained ever optimistic that Chinese leaders would come to their senses in the face of Australian resoluteness. He waited, and waited, for a telephone call that never came….”

Angus M Robinson with City of Guiyang officials, Guizhou Province, September 2017

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