Speaking at the National Press Club last week, Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer was asked a question along the lines of how Australia should balance its human rights responsibilities with the fact that China was economically critical to us.
In fact, Kadeer replied, China needs Australia more than you need it. It needs Australia’s mineral resources to fuel its massive and constantly growing demand for energy and raw materials.
This week’s Gorgon deal suggests Kadeer might have a point. China continues to rail against Australia and the outrage of permitting Kadeer, whose primary offence is to note China’s continuing atrocities in occupied East Turkestan, to enter the country — whilst signing up to a truly extraordinary deal that has pushed the Gorgon project over into commercial viability and will guarantee a vast revenue stream for the project partners, and the Australian Government, for years to come.
The response of Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith to China’s fury has been rather in the manner of a parent confronted with a protracted tantrum from an infant — ignoring it and waiting for the Chinese Government to get over it. In reality this might be the only really viable response. The alternatives — of caving in to Chinese pressure and allowing Beijing to dictate Australia’s visa policies, purchase resource companies as it pleases and hold the whip hand in commercial negotiations, or of matching Beijing’s over-the-top rhetoric and upping the stakes in any confrontation — are hardly in Australia’s short or long-term interests.
The Howard Government managed Australia’s relationship with China very well. Kevin Rudd has, unexpectedly given his background, taken it to a more complex and demanding level. So far, though, the relationship continues to produce economic results, and despite the fevered rhetoric from the Chinese media, that is the only indicator that really counts.