Australian business leaders claim they have been ‘silenced’ over China

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Australian business leaders claim they have been ‘silenced’ over China but want to help with ‘devilishly difficult’ task of mending relations

  • Australia-China relations are tense to the point of trade war
  • Scott Morrison accused Beijing of ‘economic coercion’ with tariffs and bans
  • China punishes Australia for resisting Covid and human rights
  • Business leaders say they want to help but are afraid of appearing unfaithful

Australian business leaders claim they have been silenced over China and want to help mend the relationship.

Scott Morrison seeks help from international allies to help end China’s economic coercion.

He has pointed to the destabilizing behavior ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwall and called for a review of the World Trade Organization to make the international arbitrator more effective.

But the prime minister has been unable to contact his Chinese counterpart for over a year and the diplomatic freeze shows no signs of thawing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (right during a factory visit on June 7) has refused to speak to Scott Morrison

Chinese President Xi Jinping (right during a factory visit on June 7) has refused to speak to Scott Morrison

Mr Morrison said Australia was ready and willing to resume talks, but relaunching was a matter for China.

He said China had raised a series of political grievances that Australia would not back down, but argued that it should not be an obstacle to resolving trade disputes.

‘We are very happy to do business with them, but that is really a matter for China. Australia is not an obstacle to dialogue with China,” the prime minister said on Thursday.

Michael Clifton of the Australia China Business Council said restoring ties with Beijing would be a devilishly difficult task.

But the former Chinese trade commissioner said Australian companies could make a valuable contribution.

Mr Clifton welcomed a statement of support from Japan against China’s coercive behavior towards Australia, along with other international efforts to rein in Beijing.

Beijing has imposed huge tariffs on Australian barley (pictured) in a move Canberra says is 'economic coercion'

Beijing has imposed huge tariffs on Australian barley (pictured) in a move Canberra says is 'economic coercion'

Beijing has imposed huge tariffs on Australian barley (pictured) in a move Canberra says is ‘economic coercion’

However, he said direct engagement between Australia and China would be just as important, if not more important.

“Multilateral action is great, but so is bilateral action and our challenge is to find a way to get China back to the table,” Mr Clifton told ABC radio.

He acknowledged that Australian ministers had constantly tried to contact China and were shunned at every step.

“I just don’t think we can afford to give up, we have to keep trying,” he said.

“It’s devilishly difficult and I certainly won’t pretend to have the answer, but business wants to be part of the process of finding that answer.

“At this point it is fair to say that business is being asked to act as part of a ‘Team Australia’ approach, on a unity ticket with the Government in support of the Government’s position.”

Mr Clifton said business leaders had been silenced, fueled by the perception that a rift between the Australian government and industry leaders would be seen as a win for China.

Three Chinese navy ships paid a four-day visit to Sydney in June 2019, with Scott Morrison saying it was mutual after Australian naval ships visited China.  Since then, relations have soured

Three Chinese navy ships paid a four-day visit to Sydney in June 2019, with Scott Morrison saying it was mutual after Australian naval ships visited China.  Since then, relations have soured

Three Chinese navy ships paid a four-day visit to Sydney in June 2019, with Scott Morrison saying it was mutual after Australian naval ships visited China. Since then, relations have soured

Those who dared to speak out would also question their loyalty and motives.

He said business leaders were eager to make a silent contribution, arguing that a variety of opinions and voices could help achieve a better outcome.

“But there’s a willingness to do it behind closed doors, to talk quietly about these very, very delicate issues.”

Mr Clifton said convincing China to reconsider coercive trade measures was “undeniably a good thing”.

But he warned that attempting to do this through the World Trade Organization was a slow process and companies didn’t have the luxury of time.

China has imposed and banned trade tariffs on more than $20 billion of Australian exports.

Mr Clifton said the economic damage was partly masked by record iron ore prices, but many small and medium-sized Australian businesses felt genuine pain.

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