Europe and the US need the Australian experience of the Chinese threat.
Europe, the United States and Australia have shared a common enemy for decades now, but unlike Australians most of the societies and governments in the Western World have lived ignoring this fact. Especially in Europe there has been a very dangerous tendency of seeing all big foreign powers in the same light as neutral commercial partners. If there had to be some suspicion it would always be directed towards USA rather than to the other powers such as China. For decades, Europeans who felt they were far enough in geographic terms but close enough in commercial ones, have ignored the warnings coming from our close cousins in the Southern Hemisphere about the threat that Communist China poses to the world.
Perhaps because we are not in the immediate line of sight we chose not to listen, or perhaps more likely, because we made the decision to turn a blind eye in order to continue feeding our appetite for cheap Chinese goods. We allowed our own dependence on China to cloud our vision when it came to our relationship with them.
Now Europe is finally waking up to the threat of China. The gross misconduct of the Chinese regime with the coronavirus and its catastrophic effects on the whole world has sent a profound shock round the global community. And despite the permanent waves of Chinese propaganda coming from official sources and its enormous network in the western world to obscure the genesis and further development of the pandemic in Wuhan, Europeans are becoming aware of the necessity of profound changes in the relationship with China. We had almost forgotten, that our enormous commercial partner is a communist regime. Beijing’s obscurantist behaviour reminds everybody of this crucial fact.
Now that we are aware of the urgent necessity to refocus our relationship with China, Europe has a lot to learn from Australia. We must ensure that we work closer than ever before with our allies in Australia and New Zealand. To learn from them and build together new ways of approaching this relation with a growingly expansionist and aggressive regime. A quarter of a century ago many thought that increasing wealth would bring in China a growing openness and an evolution towards a more tolerant and flexible regime and an opening for democracy and respect for human rights. Today we can say these prospects have failed utterly.
It is important in times like this for the democracies of the world to stand together and defend our way of life. We need a thorough rethinking of our relations to Beijing from the common ground of democratic states and free societies. China not only poses an economic threat, but an existential one to our belief in freedom and democracy. As well as exporting goods and finances, the Chinese are exporting their totalitarian model of government around the world. Offering an alternative to democracy, not only in developing countries. We need to join forces in order to make the case for democracy and free markets in these places.
This would also serve in the interest of both Europeans and Australians as it would create new markets to export too, and new opportunities to buy goods. Australia, unlike Europe, has a dependence on exports to China as well as imports. The EU could help alleviate some of that pressure by fast tracking the free trade agreement being negotiated between the two parties.
By doing so the EU would prove two things – first that it is still serious about free trade with third countries, something that confidence in has fallen. And secondly, it would show that the EU was serious about ending China’s hold on the global market.
Possible avenues for deepening the relationship between Australia and Europe could include joint military exercises with NATO in the Pacific. NATO and Australia are already closely cooperating on cyber security. We face a new cold war against China, and we must make sure that the Western world does whatever it can to support its members.
But economic and military alliances aren’t enough, like the Cold War, we must be winning the war of ideas as well. Throughout the Cold War, I worked as a journalist covering the Eastern Bloc. I saw first-hand the brutality of the Soviet Regime and what Communism did for the people of Eastern Europe. The Cold War was not won on battle fields but in the hearts of the people and their will for freedom much mobilized first the polish workers, then the whole central and eastern Europe.
We are facing a similar foe again today. The Chinese communist party, like the Soviet Union before it, has committed and commits permanently infinite crimes against its own people. From the use re-education camps in the North West of the country, to mass surveillance on a scale unprecedented anywhere else in the world.
And just like the USSR before it, the Chinese Communists most powerful weapon is misinformation. In the same way the Soviet Union tried to cover up the Chernobyl disaster, China is today covering up what happened in Wuhan. Whilst they continue to insist that only 3,000 died, the reality is much closer to 40,000.
And just as the Soviet Union used to use support to its satellites as a cover for the suppression of civil liberties, the Chinese are today trying to buy off western governments and western media with foreign aid. However, this propaganda has already backfired in many cases. In my own country, Spain, the Chinese provided both face masks and testing equipment that didn’t work – at a loss to the taxpayer. The same has happened all across Europe, and yet at home the Chinese are portraying it as a success. Australia has faced similar battles against Chinese propaganda in the past – and perhaps this is where Europe could learn more.
When this crisis is finally over, we will all emerge into a totally different world. And my hope is that both Australia and Europe, in a firm alliance along with the United States, will finally start to hold China to account. And will have a common reinforced defence for contention that forces the Chinese regime to reform for the better or at least contention in its ambitions.