BBC BLOGS - Nick Bryant's Australia
« Previous | Main | Next »

China goes sweet and sour on Australia

Nick Bryant | 05:00 UK time, Wednesday, 19 August 2009

In the newsrooms of the northern hemisphere, August is ritually known, of course, as the 'silly season,' the time when daft stories receive undue prominence for the simple reason that not much else is happening.

Here in Australia, at the fag end of the southern winter, it has been more like the serious season. August has seen a steady stream of major stories, from the defeat in parliament of the emissions trading scheme, the centrepiece of the Rudd government's environmental strategy, to the interim report of the Royal Commission into the Victorian bushfires, which detailed a litany of bungles and breakdowns at the highest levels of the emergency services (no working fax machine, no available computer, no one in overall charge).

There were the arrests in connection with the alleged terror plots in Melbourne, and the awfulness of the air crash which killed 13 people, nine of them Australians, en route to the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea, a place which may be starting to rival Gallipoli in the minds of younger, more Asia-orientated Australians.

But the running story of the month has been the rapid deterioration of Australia's relationship with China. Two issues have been particularly problematic: the visit to Australia of the Uighur leader, Rebiya Kadeer, and the charges levelled against Australian mining executive, Stern Hu, who works in the Shanghai office of Rio Tinto.

It seems that every other day this month I have been filing on one or other of those stories, from the efforts of Chinese diplomats to stop the organisers of the Melbourne Film Festival from showing a documentary about Rebiya Kadeer's life to the effort to stop her speaking at the National Press Club; from the allegations aired in the Chinese media about Stern Hu stealing state secrets to the downgrading of those charges to stealing commercial secrets.

I've blogged about the relationship with China before, but the point is worth emphasising again: that most people expected Kevin Rudd, the Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister (that phrase almost merits a special function key on my laptop, since I use it so often) to forge a much closer relationship. But relations between Beijing and Canberra have reached what some analysts are calling a 10-year low.

If you will excuse the Chinese culinary pun, a relationship which promised to be so very sweet has turned unexpectedly sour.

It is in the mutual self-interest of both countries to sustain cordial relations. China needs Australia's resources; Australia needs China's custom. So I guess it should come as no surprise that in the midst of this diplomatic downturn, PetroChina has just agreed to buy $A50 billion of liquefied natural gas from a yet-to-be-developed gas field off the coast of Western Australia.

But the centrality of resources to the relationship can also be deeply problematic. After all, much of the heat of the present overlapping disputes stems from the failure of the Anglo-Australian mining giants to reach agreement on the price of iron ore exports to China.

As an aside, you get the feeling that Delhi's strong and active response to the spate of assaults on Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney may have been influenced partly by the Rudd government's refusal to sell uranium to India.

For all that, the main point of this blog was to get back to you on your comments from the past few weeks. Some really strong strands on everything from the future of the Australian publishing industry to whether Aussies are sporting or not.

On the film Balibo, ( a number of you made the point - Parragirl and Brumby2 - that I concentrated on the five Australian-based journalists to the exclusion of the East Timorese. A fault of the blog, admittedly, but not of the movie, as some of you may now have had the chance to see. As for the idea that the story of the Balibo Five is relatively little-known? I stand by that. And Brumby2 I promise you that I knew of the Balibo Five well before the movie, having covered the outcome of coronial inquest two years ago (incidentally, one of the Brits, Brian Peters, comes from my home town, Bristol, where Balibo received an advance screening for the families).

Loads of good commentary from The True Aussie Sporting Spirit Perhaps I was too generous, as paulcrossleyiii, (someone who I often look upon as an ally) suggests (take off the rose-tinted specs for a minute mate!) and should have mentioned the claims of racial abuse from the visiting Sri Lankan and South Africa teams in 2003 and 2006. Foraggio makes a similar point, and highlights the rather graceless manner in which John Howard handed over the rugby world cup to Martin Johnson in 2003. Again, good point.

Still, I do think the 'win-at-all costs' Aussie way gets a bit overdone, and that a premium is attached to good sportsmanship. Just look at the Brownlow medal, which does not go to the best performing player in Aussie Rules, but the 'fairest and best.' If, any stage of the season a player is suspended for foul play, he is deemed ineligible. I've yet to rest my case on this one, but it's another factoid for the jury to consider.

Obama stardust for teflon Rudd? didn't get many comments. Politics blogs rarely do. But one additional point to make is that Malcolm Turnbull faces an almost impossible conundrum. One of the main things people seem to dislike about him is his hasty ambition, and that is a very hard thing to disown or decouple yourself from when you are trying to become Prime Minister after just five years in parliament. How do you downplay your ambition when you want to become the PM? A tricky dilemma.

A few updates. On the book debate, I understand the matter will be discussed on 17 September in cabinet. I'll keep you posted.

And, of course, there's another date for your diaries in September - the open-top bus tour of the victorious England team....although have you seen the weather forecast for The Oval? Talk about raining on our parade.....,25197,25949120-5001505,00.html


or register to comment.

More from this blog...

Topical posts on this blog


These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

    Latest contributors

    BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

    This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.