Chinese social media has lit up with outrage after Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the United States as a “friend” while referring to China as a “customer”.
- Australia’s political relationship with China has been rocky in the past two years
- Beijing has been accused of attempting to interfere in Australian politics
- Chinese state media says Australia’s weariness of Beijing’s influence is due to a “lack of confidence”
Mr Morrison drew criticism on Monday when he used those words to outline how he believed Australia could maintain relationships with both Beijing and Washington amid trade tensions between the two great powers.
“You don’t have to pick sides in that. You don’t have to walk away from the relationships that you have,” Mr Morrison said on the campaign trail in Sydney.
“You stand by your friends and you stand by your customers as well.”
As our largest trading partner, Australia’s export industries rely heavily on China, but the political relationship has been rocky in the past two years, with Beijing facing accusations of attempts to interfere in domestic politics.
One user of the Mandarin-language Tencent News app, which is mainly used in China, observed that “Australia has always been on the American side”.
“What the f***, it’s election time and he is making a scene again,” another posted on the same site.
On Australian-Chinese online forum OurSteps, a handful of posters backed Mr Morrison, declaring his comments “quite right” and “well said”.
But the majority were opposed to his position, with one netizen declaring it could affect the way they vote on Saturday.
“Originally I thought of voting for the Libs, now I hesitate,” they said.
Another encouraged fellow commenters to “wait until next week” because the Prime Minister would be “out of office” by then.
Bishop, Shorten distance themselves from ‘customer’ view
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was quick to counter Mr Morrison’s comments, saying that Australia and the US are long-standing allies but that did not mean China should be written off.
“I don’t look at China or Japan or Korea or Indonesia just as customers. I see them as very complex, dynamic societies,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Gosford.
“I see a much more sophisticated relationship than viewing China as some sort of customer going through the Australian Mc-drive-through and saying, ‘What can we get from you?’.”
The US has imposed $200 billion worth of tariffs on China after the two countries were not able to secure a trade deal.
Former foreign minister Julie Bishop also split with her party’s leader on the comments, saying “I don’t see it that way at all”.
“I think our relationship with China is one of deep and mutual respect,” she told reporters in Perth.
“We are partners. We are trading partners. We have worked together in a whole range of areas.
“And so, the relationship is one of equals.”
The furore came the day after an editorial published in Chinese state media outlet Global Times attributed wariness in Australia about growing Chinese influence to a “lack of confidence” in the democratic system due to Australia’s “unstable political environment and the Government’s ineffective response to socio-economic challenges in recent years”.
“No matter how much Washington throws its weight around, some Australians are not at all concerned about the US,” Global Times said.
“But when it comes to China, they start to feel uneasy as Beijing exercises some influence. This reflects their lack of confidence.”