Australians with business interests in Hong Kong and mainland China fear they could be caught in the middle of the stand-off between Beijing and Canberra.
The Sino-Australian relationship has worsened dramatically since April, when Australia called for an independent international inquiry into the outbreak of COVID-19.
The announcement was met by an angry missive from the Chinese embassy which labelled the claim as “completely ridiculous and disinformation.”
David Thomas, president of the Australia China SME Association, said businesses were “worried” by the escalating tensions.
“Of course they’re worried, but right now it’s mainly noise,” Mr Thomas told The New Daily.
“For the Australian economy to ‘snap back’ and to avoid a long and painful recession, we will need to be on good terms with our biggest trading partner.
“Of course we should diversify, but when we come off the JobKeeper subsidies, we will need countries to trade with. And China is the number one in the region,” he said.
They’re not just our number one trading partner, they’re everyone’s … They’ve got the money and the market.”
Not only are they our biggest trading partner for commodities, but China is also offering innovative new industries for Australians to do business in.
“By the end of this year, China is expected to have 160 million people accessing their new 5G network. We can take advantage of this,” Mr Thomas said.
“A Chinese shopper in Shanghai can jump on to an Alibaba platform and order literally anything from anywhere in the world.
“If you’ve got the best wine, fresh cherries, tasty oranges or world-class skincare products, you can sell them to cashed-up Chinese consumers at premium prices.
We’re going to need these buyers when the COVID crisis is over.”
Generally, it’s a lucrative friendship. Two-way trade between the countries is worth $194.6 billion annually – more than twice that of our next-largest trading partner, Japan.
Some are taking matters into their own hands. Last week, business leaders joined university vice-chancellors in holding signs saying “Australia welcomes you” as part of a campaign that hopes to repair the damage done by the diplomatic stoush.
China Australia Business Council, the University of Sydney and the Chinese Australian Forum, among others, launched the campaign.
Chinese Australian Forum president Jason Yat-Sen Li said the aim was to push past the political dialogue.
“We hear so much about the politics around this, but it’s often regular people and regular businesses that get caught in the crossfire,” he said.
I think a lot of young Chinese-Australians are just over it.”
Allan Behm, head of the International and Security Affairs Program at The Australia Institute said business had reason to be worried.
“I think business should be concerned because when rhetoric replaces common sense then everybody is the loser,” Mr Behm said.
Business is the loser, students are losers, and the governments a loser too because it’s been left looking impotent.”
The best way to deal with China is the opposite to what we are currently doing – smart diplomacy, he said.
“You scream and shot but nothing Australia does will have any material effect. A better avenue is carefully constructed and professional diplomacy,” Mr Behm said.
“Business is right in saying it is for the government to cool it down a bit because China and Australia have got to work together if we are to generate a recovery in the local economy and that is paramount at the moment.”
For Australia to snap back from the recession, we have to work together, he said.
“Unless we can all put our shoulders to the wheel and get the global economic system working again we’ll have a whole generation of kids who will live much less rewarding lives than their parents,” he added.