US President Joe Biden’s top envoy for the Pacific on Tuesday accused China of trying to “bring Australia to its knees” through a barrage of sanctions amounting to “economic warfare.”
Speaking to the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, veteran diplomat Kurt Campbell lampooned Beijing for its heavy-handed tactics.
Painting China as increasingly bellicose and determined to impose its will abroad, Campbell said that Beijing had embarked on a “really dramatic economic war, directed against Australia.”
Over the past two years, China has introduced a series of punitive sanctions on Australian products in a fierce political dispute that has frozen ministerial contacts and plunged relations into the most serious crisis since Tiananmen.
“China’s preference would have been to break Australia. Bring Australia to its knees,” said Campbell, who currently serves as the White House Indo-Pacific coordinator.
China has been angered by Australia’s willingness to legislate against overseas influence operations, ban Huawei from 5G contracts and call for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Australian barley, coal, copper ores, cotton, hay, logs, lobsters, sugar, wine, beef, citrus fruits, cereals, table grapes, dairy products and Infant formulas have been subject to Chinese sanctions.
The US envoy said that under President Xi Jinping, China has become “more tolerant of risk, more assertive, more determined to basically take measures that other countries would consider coercive.”
The Biden administration has adopted a policy of “strategic competition” with China, recognizing the rivalry between the two powers but maintaining ties so that conflicts do not get out of control.
Nuclear powered submarines
Biden recently surprised many in the region by agreeing to share sensitive nuclear-powered submarine technology with Canberra, allowing Australia to dramatically increase its military deterrence.
Campbell said the move, part of a broader three-way AUKUS deal that includes the UK, would unite the three allies for generations.
“When we look back at the Biden administration, I think it will be one of the most important things we accomplish. And I think 20 years from now it will be taken for granted that our sailors are sailing together, our submarine port in Australia.”
Canberra and London’s economic ties to a rapidly growing China had cast doubt on the alliance, Campbell admitted.
“Seven or eight years ago, if you asked the countries that were most likely to strategically realign and reconsider their options … near the top of that list they would probably be both Great Britain and Australia,” he said.
Campbell also revealed that other Pacific allies would likely be involved in cyber or other non-submarine aspects of the AUKUS deal.
“Many close allies came up to us, immediately after, and said, can we get involved? Can we commit?
“It is to the credit of Australia and Great Britain, who insisted, yes, this is not a closed architecture.”