Recent media articles and comments by Australian politicians are starting to rub the Chinese the wrong way.
Just ask David Thomas, founder and President of the Australia China SME Association.
On a recent business trip to China, Thomas was acutely aware of a change in the way his Chinese counterparts spoke about Australia.
“China is becoming seriously concerned by Australia’s negative attitude towards it, he said.
“I have just completed a one week business visit to China and have never before heard such negative comments about Australia’s politicians, media and government.”
And this was with people who he visited on a regular bases over the past two years.
While he recognised the temperature change, he said it isn’t preventing collaboration and co-operation yet.
“The (Chinese) view was that it’s not too late for Australia to turn this around. But there needs to be a change of attitude in Australia (government and media) to avoid it getting any worse,” he said.
“Chinese media is controlled by Government so there is often a perception that, when stories gets written in the Australian media it reflects the views of the Government, which of course isn’t true. But that can be the perception.”
Thomas suggests more appreciation should be put towards Chinese trading partners, or Australia could risk economic disaster.
“Whether people understand it or not, China is our biggest export partner,” he says, and as “China’s middle class [grows]… they are spending money on quality goods and services and they like Australian products because we have a good reputation for producing clean, ethical high quality goods and services.
“Everywhere across China, our goods are being sold in shops and online.
“So many Australian businesses are exporting to China. Food, beverages, health and wellness, beauty products, the list goes on.
“Our export market to China is creating jobs, economic growth and prosperity for our country. Every household across Australia benefits from our exports to China. Quite frankly, without our investment and trading relationship with China, Australia would be in serious trouble.
“Many people don’t realise that our education is our third largest export (after iron ore and coal) and our universities depend on foreign students to survive.
“Chinese students currently make up the largest group of international students in Australia and are currently standing at a record level of 160,000 this year. But all I hear are complaints, ranging from spying to clogging up our transport system.
“It’s getting out of control.”
Thomas said business and political leaders “need to step up and show some leadership” and “the negative commentary needs to stop”.
“They need to acknowledge the importance of the Chinese trading relationship for Australia,” he says.
“We cannot continue to allow negative and derogatory comments about Chinese businesses, entrepreneurs, migrants, students and tourists to be made in the press or elsewhere. All this does is erodes trust and demonstrates a level of disrespect that is unnecessary and unwarranted.”
He adds: “Unfortunately we have a few populist politicians here in Australia using China scare tactics to win votes. All this does is peddle hate and divisiveness. It is irresponsible and stupid and puts the whole country at risk.”
Without urgent change, Thomas fears the Australian economy would be crippled.
“We desperately need people to start standing up for our country and our trading partners including China. We need our export partners more than ever,” he said.
“Thanks to technology, we live in a global economy and there are plenty of other countries that are desperate to get China’s business including New Zealand, Canada and the European Union post Brexit. The last thing we need is to upset one of our major trading partners to the point where they start buying from and investing in other countries, instead of Australia. This would devastate businesses across Australia and send our economy into a catastrophic downward spiral. It’s starting to happen already and we need it to stop now.”