Japan's "Backdoor Neighbour" that was
Tomohiko Taniguchi (Editor-at-Large, Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.)
When George W. Bush addressed the Australian Parliament on 23rd of October, two of the Green senators heckled the President of the United States. While this was widely reported by Japan's network TV stations, no mention was made of what followed the next day. This is strange, as there are at least a dozen reporters in Sydney, supposedly reporting daily for Japan's news media. Had it been told, it could have shed light on what the Chinese are doing down under towards what has been called Japan's "only one" friend in the region and a neighbour at 135 degrees of east longitude. It is Beijing's combined assault of both charm and bullying, possibly with the intention to undermine a nation that makes a strategic cornerstone for Japan and the US.
One thing that Chinese leaders have yet to get used to is heckling. Remember, in Beijing there is no Hyde Park Corner. And those Greens certainly would be heckling as they are as much anti-China as anti-America. "If the Greens continue", so the travelling Chinese foreign minister is reported to have threatened the Chairman of the Australian Parliament, "we would have to consider cancelling President Hu Jintao's speech."
His would mark the first such appearance ever given by a non-US head of state to the Australian Parliament. The stakes were high for both Beijing and Canberra, but it was the Aussies who gave in. The notorious pair found themselves barred from stepping onto the Parliamentary floor that morning, while their guests, representing anti-Beijing causes such as that of the Tibetans, were courteously yet resolutely led to a glass-sealed corridor that normally accommodates visiting school children.
So much for the bullying. One has to ask, however, why the Chinese are able to bully the Aussies. Part of the reason lies in tourism, which is rapidly on the rise without the Japanese noticing.
It is that millennia old "come-and-beg-if-thy-wish" custom with which Beijing grants a foreign nation ADS, or Approved Destination Status. Once granted, the ADS nation can expect that Beijing tolerates, as if it were a gift, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists heading for the privileged country. So Germany, the EU, Turkey, Madagascar and Zimbabwe have all come of late to Beijing to beg for this status, but it was Australia that Beijing chose, back in 1999, as the first ever "Western" nation to be granted ADS. The growth of Chinese Australia-bound tourism since then has been outstanding. The People's Daily reports, "Last year (the year 2001) about 163,000 Chinese visitors travelled to Australia - a 75 percent increase on 1999. By 2005 that figure is expected to jump by 168 per cent to over 430,000 and by 2012 the number of Chinese visitors arriving in Australia is forecast to dwarf all others, with a huge 1.4 million." (29, May 2002). The "others" assured to be dwarfed by the Chinese surely include the Japanese.
Also of note is the growth in the number of Chinese students who are choosing Australia rather than the US as their preferred destination. This trend is even steadier now than in pre-911 days when America was much more nonchalant in accepting students from anywhere in the world. Already some 30,000 Chinese students are scattered across Australia, and the number is expected to quadruple within two to three years. Travellers and students combined, it will no longer be Japanese honeymooners but the Chinese that will not only be the most visible in the eyes of the Australians but also the most beneficial to their national income.
Canberra's future lies increasingly in China also in terms of trade and investment. Trade relations aside, what is striking about the bilateral investment relationship is that it is not China but Australia that is the net recipient of direct investment. China has invested three times as much in Australia as the other way round.
All told there are ample reasons for Canberra to be leaning more toward Beijing because that is where the future money lies. As for Japan, it has long taken Australia for granted. If the Pacific is an Othello board, Australia has until now remained a white cornerstone, a lynchpin that Japan and the US strategists have counted upon. And it takes no genius to know that in order to prevail on the Othello board, you just focus on that corner that is Australia.