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Chewing gum on China’s shoe? Not Australia

Albanese with Xi at the G20. James Brickwood/Sydney Morning Herald/Getty

After “all the rants and insults, the political freeze and the trade bans”, Xi Jinping has “brought his intimidation campaign of Australia to a politely meek end”, says Peter Hartcher in The Sydney Morning Herald. On Tuesday, the Chinese leader met Australian PM Anthony Albanese on the sidelines of the G20 conference in Indonesia – and it couldn’t have gone better. Australia was once likened to “chewing gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe” by a Beijing propagandist, but this week Xi was enthusing warmly about how he’d visited every state in the country.

Only three years ago, Xi imposed a “total ban on political contact with Australia”. Combined with import bans on more than $20bn worth of Australian products, it was designed to force Canberra to backtrack on its criticism of China’s Uighur repression, and the Aukus security alliance with America and Britain. The ban didn’t work. “Australia’s economy was better able to find alternative export markets than China’s was to find alternative import sources.” Beijing has “quietly relaxed” many of its trade restrictions after discovering it needed Australian coal and wheat more than it valued its diplomatic strop. And through it all, Australia didn’t concede to a single one of the 14 demands China issued to us in 2020. This is what “capitulation by a great power” – and “resistance by a middle power” – looks like.