On Monday, two Australian journalists left China, marking a new low in Sino-Australian ties. Both were earlier banned from leaving but were allowed to do so after being questioned by security personnel in relation to last month’s detention of an Australian journalist who worked for Chinese TV. Beijing’s revelation yesterday that Australian intelligence personnel searched the homes of Chinese journalists in June and questioned them for hours suggested possible tit-for-tat moves.
The episode adds to worsening ties as Canberra pushed back against what it perceived as Beijing’s threat to its democracy and sovereignty. That included a 2017 law against foreign interference in its politics after what it saw as China’s efforts to influence its politicians. Australia banned tech firm Huawei in 2018 from its 5G network on grounds of national security. More recently, it suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong over the imposition of a national security law there, and rejected China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. But Australia is hardly the only one that has reacted to China’s growing assertiveness in its foreign policy. Others include Asean – also against China’s South China Sea claims. India, in the midst of a border row with China, has upgraded ties with Australia to a strategic partnership.