US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday lashed out at China for its “economic retribution” against Australia, claiming the US would continue to support the latter’s push for an inquiry into the origin of the coronavirus.
Pompeo’s remarks are a continuation of similar rhetoric from the Trump administration, and the malicious intent to flare up the standoff between China and Australia is obvious. This is not the first time that an American politician has expressed such typical support for Australia in standing up to China. And it would be either naive or foolish of anyone from the Morrison government to really believe those empty promises.
While Australia may now be struggling with how to ease its tensions with China, the fact it first needs to recognize is that there is no need for its government to submit to the US’ political manipulations, since the US is not as important to the Australian economy as it once was.
There was a time when the US was Australia’s largest trading partner, but that picture changed a long time ago. China has become Australia’s largest export destination in recent years, accounting for one-third of its total export value, while the US slipped to become the fourth-largest destination for Australian exports.
Some may argue that the US remains the largest foreign investor in Australia, with investments totaling around A$860 billion ($564.23 billion). But that’s just the stock of US investment in Australia, which has experienced slow annual gains or even declines in recent years.
It may be a long-time habit of Australians to see the US as their indispensable economic partner. Yet the truth is that they are not the beneficiaries of the “America First” policy under the Trump administration, and instead could even be the victims of it. The COVID-19 pandemic is taking an unprecedented toll on the US economy, and the US government will be busy diverting losses, which is why it would be impossible for the US’ vocal support of Australia to translate into any substantial economic assistance.
The US may still be a powerful ally to Australia, but it is questionable whether it is a reliable one. Pompeo’s “backing” is enough to suggest the US doesn’t really care about what kind of pressure the Australian government would face so long as it continues to hit China.
If some from the Morrison government think they are doing the right thing under the “economic threats” from China, they should at least be advised not to allow US politicians to use them. An inquiry focusing on blaming China – based on the presumption of guilt, which is neither fair nor just – should not be hyped as a benchmark for Australia’s “political correctness.” If Australia wants to seek an answer regarding the origin of the virus, the resolution widely agreed upon at the 73rd World Health Assembly will be entirely sufficient to serve that purpose.