For some reason, China had thought that it could tackle and teach Australia a lesson for standing up to Chinese bullying. However, the country down under has resolved to take on the Chinese and play the game even better than Beijing. Australia has taken the opportunity to extend and solidify its influence in the Pacific Island nations off its eastern coastline, pushing back against China’s growing influence in the Pacific Ocean as the virus outbreak hinders travel.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s administration has promised to supply its neighbours with COVID-19 vaccines in 2021 as part of a A$500 million package aimed at achieving “full immunisation coverage” in the region. It also recently signed a “landmark” deal with Fiji, one of the region’s most populous nations, to allow military deployments and exercises in each other’s jurisdiction. One should remember that the island nation of Fiji had become a place of consolidating Chinese influence and increased investment.
The case of Fiji is a good strawman to understand the Australian strategy. As the traditional investor and the regional big brother, for a long time it was Australia that held sway in the region, but, as the Chinese investment increased so did their influence. However, COVID-19 has changed the dynamics and the investment from the Chinese has steadily gone down. China being practically absent from the scene is the best opportunity for Australians to gain the lost influence in the region, as well as, teaching China a lesson for its irresponsible and belligerent actions.
Bloomberg reported that Jonathan Pryke, who heads research on the region for Sydney-based think tank the Lowy Institute said, “China has largely been missing in action in regards to providing Covid-related support in the region.”
“Australia has built up an amount of goodwill by not forgetting about the Pacific in a time of crisis,” he added.
At a time when the Chinese are not able to take any action in the region and the Pacific Islands are in the need of a support structure to tackle the COVID-19, Australia has stepped up its efforts to help the island nations and has launched the program to provide full immunisation coverage to the Pacific Island countries.
This can turn out to be the ultimate solution to the years of Chinese efforts to garner influence in the region. As the Chinese have failed in their vaccine diplomacy and have gotten a bad name all over the world for their amateur handling of the Coronavirus and turning it into a world pandemic, Australian efforts to provide immunisation to the countries in the region will go a long way.
However, this is not the only action, the Scott Morrison government is reportedly planning to scrap a research agreement between the Victorian government and China’s Jiangsu province. Meanwhile, Beijing seems to have been intimidated by Australia’s latest plans and has labelled them an “act of revenge”.
China was content with the thought of making Australia pay for angering the middle kingdom. However, the Chinese have themselves started bleeding, be it, the electricity shortfalls due to the decreased supply of Australian Coal or the deep fall in its manufacturing industry. With these bans, Beijing ended up hurting itself and its citizens. And while China was playing strong by banning Australian exports, it did not ban iron ore and we already know the reason why.
Australia has been working overtime to teach China a lesson. This time, it has snatched the Pacific Islands from Chinese influence and has started its own vaccine diplomacy for its immediate region. Xi Jinping had thought of teaching the Australians a lesson, but, it has come full circle as the Aussies are now sending the Chinese packing from the pacific islands.