The trade relationship between Australia and China is well and truly broken and it has been for some time.
Despite the record trade numbers, that are more reflective of short term necessity rather than any long term obligation, the causalities keep growing on both sides.
The situation for Australia is transactional but for China this is personal, and I’m not talking about the Chinese Government.
There is an emotional investment on the Chinese side that is underlining our current situation but instead of seeing this the body politic and media seem blind to it. They view China and the Chinese people through a single CCP prism.
Gone are the days of world record deals, photo-op MOU signings with Ministers and business leaders and gone too is the genuine positive spirit from both sides around the CHAFTA free trade agreement that was supposed to deliver long-term prosperity and form the foundation for a long-term strategic economic partnership.
The seeds of discontent were planted when the Chinese darling Huawei, the first company of its kind from China, a self-made company, the biggest player in its industry and globally accepted as a true innovator, was not only blocked from doing business in Australia but was publicly humiliated and treated with total contempt.
The problem we have in Canberra is that the Huawei situation is telling story of the bigger problem. The issue is not so much of the imposition of the 5G ban but how it happened.
The ignorance of the importance of Huawei to the Chinese people was totally lost – and still is – on so many in Canberra and the media.
Despite what some people say Huawei is not a darling of the Chinese Government, though the US trade war has certainly ensured greater government support for Huawei – but Huawei has always been a darling of the Chinese people.
So when Malcolm Turnbull so publicly banned Huawei from 5G and did so by setting it up as a force of potential evil, many Chinese took it as a personal slap in the face.
It was a clear sign that no matter what they do or achieve, they will never be good enough and the Australian politic & media will always look down at them.
Huawei is a modern China success story, it is a symbol and representation of China the country but much more importantly it is a representation and reflection on the Chinese people themselves.
The founder Ren Zhengfei is seen as the Bill Gates of China, self-made, humble and driven to make sure his company is seen as the best in the world at what it does. The Chinese people are proud at what he has achieved because they see it as their achievement too.
Up until the US trade war, Huawei was a true global success story, some 60% of its business was outside of China and the US was the only country in the world where Huawei had not attained any real success.
Even in Australia Huawei became the largest provider of 4G technology with around 1,000 staff working for over 16 years successfully helping deliver cheaper and better telecommunications, all without a single security issue.
But overnight – after a Prime Ministerial visit to the US – Huawei found itself hostage to a barrage of media leaks from Canberra setting the environment for the 5G ban.
The company was publicly hung, drawn and quartered with no acknowledgment from anyone in Government of its unblemished record in Australia or globally – but it did not stop there.
Not only did the Turnbull Government deliver a public execution it also went around the world trying to convince others to do the same, funding millions of dollars to a ‘Think Tank’ to take up the anti-Huawei cause locally & internationally – turning Australia into an active global lobbyist against Huawei.
Unsurprisingly, the Chinese people took this personally and still do. It was a public humiliation and done with no remorse and in fact openly celebrated by many in the Australian body politic and media.
It wasn’t just a rejection of Huawei, it was rejection of the Chinese people’s achievements and success.
So, now as Australian Barley produces worry about their opportunities in China US Barley farmers are celebrating the increase in demand for their products with US farmers getting a huge windfall at the cost of Australian farmers.
In the same vein American high-tech companies are the big winners as the US continues to push countries to ban Huawei, TikTok, WeChat & Alibaba – guess who is ready to fill the gap?
This has never been about Australia, we are fodder in someone else’s game.
So as jobs and income is taken away from both Chinese and Australian companies, some of our politicians play dress up in wolverine costumes, creating an atmosphere of fear and loathing between the two countries.
Australia and China have always had political differences, we have always had systems of government that are diametrically opposed. But until now that never seemed to have got in way of ensuring a level headed management of our disputes and the focus on mutual beneficial transactions.
The opportunity for Huawei in 5G in Australia has most likely come and gone but that doesn’t mean that lessons can’t be learnt. Symbols matter, understanding what they are and what they mean enables the building of trust.
We need sensible heads on both sides to be able to sit down and discuss important matters of disagreement without public executions. We need to talk rather than yell.
We must always remember that behind the politics there are real people who are suffering and will continue to do so until we get this right.
By Jeremy Mitchell – Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Huawei Australia