China now buys almost a third of Australia’s exports – about twice the value bought by second-placed Japan, and about nine times fifth-placed United States.
It’s a situation that sparks fears of a Chinese economic slowdown, or a backlash if we offend China’s government in some way, such as by criticising its actions in Xinjiang or in the South China Sea.
In February and March customs officials in Chinese ports reportedly held up Australian coal imports. This was interpreted as a signal from Beijing about moves in Canberra to limit Chinese influence in Australia.
The Chinese government has a track record of using economic muscle to apply diplomatic pressure, including against Canada, South Korea and Palau.
“We are incredibly dependent on China – in some ways we are a state of China,” said business commentator Robert Gottliebsen. “China is now the world’s number two country and they will not stand for being lectured to by anyone — let alone a minnow like Australia.”