Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is walking a tightrope as he tries to preserve the economic relationship with China while defending Australia’s interests.
Treasurer Frydenberg has found himself between a rock and a hard place as he tries to balance Australia’s economic and political interests with those of China, which has emerged from COVID-19 as a kingmaker in the global economy.
“We have a strong economic partnership with China, and we want that to continue,” Mr Frydenberg told a Bloomberg webinar. “But when it comes to key strategic and geopolitical issues, we will stand our ground.”
Australia and China have more than $200 billion a year in two-way trade. Australia also supplies 60 per cent of China’s iron ore imports and 40 per cent of its LNG imports, underpinning its economic growth.
But that hasn’t stopped China from levelling tariffs on a number of Australian agricultural exports and allegedly launching cyber attacks against political offices and critical infrastructure following the Morrison Government’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.
“We will be very consistent and clear when it comes to protecting our national interests and we have done so in the past and will do so in the future and we make no apologies for that,” Mr Frydenberg said.
The comments come as a new poll from the Lowy Institute found that 94 per cent of Australians surveyed would support finding other markets for Australian products in order to reduce economic dependence on China, while 58 per cent opposed allowing Chinese companies to supply technology for critical infrastructure in Australia.
Mr Frydenberg also recently announced sweeping changes to the foreign investment framework, which will lead to heightened scrutiny on investments that may compromise national security.
“Countries make decisions on their own interests for their own rules and we respect the rules and interests of other countries so I see no reason why that should be the case,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told media at the time. “Australia will always design its foreign investment rules on that basis as other countries do so I don’t think there is anything extraordinary about that and that is what I would offer on that.”
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