Australia has accused China of “economic coercion” at the NATO summit, saying Beijing’s “ambitions and coercive policies” challenge “our interests, security and values.”
“Australia had been subject to ‘economic coercion’ by China,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the NATO summit in Spain’s capital Madrid on Wednesday.
He urged democratic leaders to pursue “trade diversification” to counter such moves.
The statement comes as the bilateral relations between Beijing and Canberra spiraled down under the administration of Albanese’s predecessor Scott Morrison as Australia pressed with a probe into the origins of the coronavirus – the first cases of which were reported from China’s Wuhan city in December 2019.
Albanese told the NATO summit that China “aimed to become the most powerful nation in the world.”
“Strengthening of relations between Beijing and Moscow posed a risk to all democratic nations,” he said, adding that China has stopped short of condemning Russia over its war on Ukraine which began on Feb. 24.
According to Australia’s SBS News, Albanese said: “Just as Russia seeks to recreate a Russian or Soviet empire, the Chinese government is seeking friends, whether it be ... through economic support to build up alliances to undermine what has historically been the Western alliance in places like the Indo-Pacific.”
The dwindling bilateral relations have negatively affected trade between the countries, while the latest surveys done in Australia suggest the majority of its citizens “see China as a military threat” to the country.
Trust deficit comes as Canberra moves closer to Washington as part of the so-called Quad, a loose security alliance of the US, Australia, Japan, and India to counter China’s influence in the wider Asia-Pacific region.
Australia will also now get nuclear-powered submarines under a deal with the US and the UK named AUKUS, signed last year.
While Chinese investments in Australia have slid down, Beijing is sailing around the Pacific, building alliances with island nations. It signed a security deal with the Solomon Islands and is seeking a regionwide trade deal with 10 southern Pacific Island nations.
In its 2022 Strategic Concept, a blueprint for the next decade, NATO accused Beijing of “malicious hybrid and cyber operations and confrontational rhetoric and disinformation to target allies and harm the Alliance security.”