If a new and bipolar world order is emerging, one that pits a liberal West against an illiberal/hybrid bloc with China at its head, then Australia has frequently served as a laboratory for its new geopolitical dynamics. The Australian economy boomed on the back of China’s economic miracle; now, the Middle Kingdom absorbs as much as 40% of Australian exports on a month-to-month basis, with a degree of purchasing power that can make or break whole industries. Australian society has also had to grapple with the malign political effects that come with such a close association with an authoritarian one-party state, as illustrated by ongoing debates surrounding foreign influence. Finally, an increasingly erratic partner in Washington has caused some Australians to question their country’s place in the US alliance system, especially when siding with these traditional military institutions tends to come at the direct expense of relations with China.
And more recently yet, a new dynamic is emerging: the slow turning of the economic screws by Beijing whenever Canberra steps out of line. Evidently, the political linkages of close economic alignment are no longer hypothetical; prosperity comes with real strings attached. Just ask Australia’s barley farmers.