Guest essay by Eric Worrall
The Chinese Communist mouthpiece South China Morning Post has suggested Australia elect a Labor government, if we want climate cooperation and prosperity from trade with China.
Why are Australian firms still doing business with China? Partly to fight climate change, says ACRI report
Despite blowback amid deteriorating political ties, many Australian companies intend to keep up links with the world’s second-largest economyIn a report by the Australia-China Relations Institute, they deny being naive and say they see business opportunities in Beijing’s commitment to clean energy
Published: 5:00am, 9 Dec, 2021
- Australian companies are continuing to do business with China not just for commercial reasons but because of a focus on climate change and carbon emissions reduction policies, new research has found.
- Even though political relations between the two countries have sunk to their lowest in decades and Australian firms continue to suffer blowback for doing business with China, many have vowed to keep up their links with the world’s second-largest economy.
Some – like Woodside, one of Australia’s largest LNG producers – said they also liked working with China because of its “commitment to cleaner energy”.
“We have strong existing relationships with joint venture partners and other stakeholders in China aimed at furthering mutual development goals to support climate targets and the supply of cleaner energy,” Leo said in the report, titled “Behind the headlines: why Australian companies are still doing business with China”.
Another Australian company, and one of the world’s biggest iron ore producers, Fortescue Metals also said it had committed to tackling decarbonisation problems with China, its biggest customer.
The Australian China Business Council said Australian businesses showed interest in collaborating with China on climate change projects.
More, however, could be done by the Australian government to steer this along, said global advisory ICF lead climate specialist Huw Slater, who is based in Beijing.
The Australian national election next year could be another opportunity for a relationship reset, ACRI report author Glenda Korporaal said.
A Labor government – as opposed to the current Liberal government – would handle the relationship with China differently, she said.
“I think there would be less gratuitous offence. I think they would try and have a better relationship,” she said during a webinar discussing the report.
Alastair Symington, chief executive of supplements company Blackmore – which is well-known in China – said while national security was important, it had overshadowed the China debate in Australia.
The “Gratuitous Offence” ACRI report author Glenda Korporaal refers to is Australia objecting to China’s alleged extensive use of slave labor and systematic genocide against Uyghurs, and Australia assisting the USA to defend freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
China has repeatedly suggested that Australia is making a big mistake backing the USA over China, and has imposed punishments on Australia, such as economically painful import bans, to try to force obedience.
According to a 2020 US State Department report, China is committing genocide against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. I have also heard from sources I can’t name that the genocide has spread to Tibet and Inner Mongolia, but these reports are impossible to confirm. As the BBC reports, China appears to be conducting an “unprecedented campaign of intimidation against journalists“.
Despite all this, Australia’s commitment to alignment with the USA is not as stable as most people think. China may be attempting to exploit the fault lines.
In 2019, the Australian Federal Labor Party deputy leader urged more cooperation with China, including closer defence ties. I believe such calls to realign away from the USA are an expression of the simmering resentment which exists in some corners of Australia, over an alleged CIA intervention which toppled far left Australian Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975.
Personally I’d like to send whoever arranged Whitlam’s downfall a thank you card, in my opinion they likely saved Australia from a Cuban style Communist dictatorship. I remember my dad coming home one evening, telling my family his union had informed him Whitlam was about to nationalise the top 100 Australian companies, including the US owned company which he worked for. This occurred just before Whitlam was removed from office.
But there are a lot of Australians, mostly but not exclusively on the left of Australian politics, who even after all this time still resent the USA and Britain’s alleged role in Whitlam’s downfall. Labor politicians who were teenage activists under Whitlam, who experienced the bitterness of his downfall as impressionable kids, now run the Labor party. Many of these same people also support radical climate action.