Pottinger said reducing reliance on China’s supply lines was a key priority of the Trump administration, which this year helped to prevent UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson from including Chinese firm Huawei from building Britain’s 5G network.
“Part of the approach is, first – to work closely with allies as we’ve been doing to ensure that we do not overly rely on supply chains being rooted in one country in particular. It’s not good policy to put all of our eggs in one basket,” he said.
“Part of the second-term agenda is very much about building on those dynamics now and how to build that sense of collective security and collective prosperity.”
As China overtook Japan to become Australia’s largest trading partner in 2007, Australian MPs traditionally kept any criticisms of China to a minimum.
However, Pottinger said that China’s economic retaliation against Australia for having the “temerity” to seek an investigation into coronavirus had exposed that years of keeping quiet had failed to produce a better bilateral relationship.
“China retaliated by putting tariffs on Australian barley, cancelling beef exports and their arch propaganda said ‘Australia is chewing gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe and it’s time to scrape it off’,” he said.
“So there you have a pretty good counter-argument to the notion that by being extra friendly to China and hiding some of our candour – the idea that that would lead to a happier bilateral relationship – just doesn’t stand up.”
A recent study by the Henry Jackson Society think tank, also based in London and which has led the debate on China in the UK, found that Australia was the most dependent on China for critical goods out of the Five Eyes countries. The Five Eyes is an elite intelligence-sharing network comprising Australia, the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada.
The American consensus
Pottinger said President Trump’s greatest foreign policy legacy to date had been leading the emerging consensus on the need to push back against China.
As in 2016, both the Democrats and Republicans have pledged tough stances on China.
US presidential hopeful Joe Biden has been repeatedly critical of Trump during the 2020 campaign for not taking a strong enough stance on Chinese President Xi Jinping at the beginning of the pandemic.
Pottinger said the mostly bipartisanship approach taken on China in the US, Australia and increasingly the UK showed that “the American consensus” was being copied around the world and involved a “whole of society” endorsement.
“We’ve led that consensus, that’s been President Trump’s hallmark, probably the most key legacy and shift in American foreign policy in quite some time but there are a lot of other countries that are now starting to – at a minimum – share a very similar consensus on the diagnosis of what the problem is.”
On Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the EU’s representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Josep Borrell launched a new dialogue between EU and State Department officials dedicated purely to dealing with a joint approach towards China, including on human rights, security and multilateralism.
Recent Pew Research Centre polling revealed unfavourable views of China reached historic highs this year across 14 advanced economies with the highest dissatisfaction rating – of 81 per cent – recorded in Australia.
The centre said that in Spain, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, the US, the UK, South Korea, Sweden and Australia, negative views had reached their highest level in the 12 or more years that the Pew Research Centre had been polling in those countries.
The data showed that 86 per cent of Australians aged 50 or older held unfavourable views of China, compared to 68 per cent of Australians aged under 30.
Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.