Australia’s position on the world stage continues to slip as Canberra struggles to maintain the fight it started with Beijing in 2018.
Relations between the two countries have reached a new low as Scott Morrison’s government attempts to deflect attention away from the recent Brereton Report.
The investigation, led by the Maj Gen Justice Paul Brereton, found that Australian special forces were involved in the murder of 39 Afghan civilians and subsequent planting of weapons and phones.
The Australian government’s response has been to try and focus public discourse on a related graphic shared by a Chinese official.
The image depicts an Australian soldier threatening an Afghan child as the two stand on an Australian flag laid over a broken jigsaw of the Afghan flag.
It offers a simple commentary on the atrocities committed whilst Western media, predictably, underplays the findings.
The Australian PM has asked for an apology, calling the initial tweet ‘repugnant’. China swiftly refused, with an official saying that they should be focussed on the “heinous crimes”.
The implication among many news sources in Australia, UK and USA has been that the image is an attempt to manipulate viewers into thinking it is a literal depiction of the war crimes.
The Guardian called it “digitally altered” whilst the Evening Standard said it was a “fake image” in pieces that did not show the image.
Many who have seen the image recognise that it is closer to a cartoon commentary than an attempt at fake source material.
The image’s critical message against devastating Western wars in Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, resonates strongly among developing countries that fall within the disputing countries’ sphere of influence.
Western-backed atrocities in Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia among others makes means scepticism of Australia and the West remains high.
The regional polarity precedes the shocking revelations about ADF forces in Afghanistan. Ties between the two countries have tumbled ever since Australia led a charge for countries to boycott the 5G industry that China has invested heavily in.
Hostile stances towards the expensive rollout, spearheaded by Huawei, soon followed in Europe and America. Since then, Huawei, once one of the brightest lights in China’s economy, has had its future called into question.
Whilst the fall in demand for 5G infrastructure has undoubtedly hurt China, Australia’s reliance on the world’s most populous country for trade means that Canberra was always going to feel any repercussions.
Australia exports more goods to China than the next three countries combined. Consequentially, Beijing’s reciprocation of the hostile trade approach has hindered Australia’s ability to recover from its first recession since 1991, a streak maintained by tagging onto China’s booming economy over the last 30 years.
The recent trade dispute has disrupted wine, barley and mineral producers in Australia, contributing to the economy’s 7% shrink in the June quarter. China’s economy, meanwhile, has grown 4.9% whilst adjusting to the huge 5G losses.
The unfolding of the COVID-19 fallout has had a similar dynamic. China’s warning to the world of an unrecognised virus in December 2019, exceptionally low infection rate, and call for a global investigation through the WHO could not placate Australia.
The economically vulnerable country took a hostile approach as they allowed the virus to rampage through its population, leaving it with 3.6 deaths per 100,000. China’s rate is 0.3 per 100,000 as it leads the global investigation into the virus’ origins, which experts say may end up spanning the continent and possibly Europe.
Australia has become increasingly cornered as it attempts to maintain its ideological marriage to Western imperialism, even as the countries in the region move past them.
As nations that have struggled against US-led Western hegemony grow, Australia continues to lash out to divert from the inevitable contradiction that their reliance on non-western peoples and their subjugation has been built on.
As China moves forward with a growing economy and COVID under tight control, Canberra continue to back themselves into a corner as the rest of the world point out their failings.
Mali Kakembo, is a member of the Welsh YCL