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article imageOp-Ed: Getting ugly - Cyberattack by China on Australia is too much

By Paul Wallis     Jun 18, 2020 in World
Canberra - Prime Minister Scott Morrison today announced that Australia has been targeted by a “state actor” in a very large-scale cyberattack. The attack focused on political parties, businesses, institutions, and organizations.
Australia, like the rest of the world, is under regular cyberattack. The fact that it was announced at government level, however, was a surprise. The Prime Minister refused to speculate on which state actor was involved. Senior officials, however, confirmed to ABC Australia that the primary suspect was China.
(For diplomatic reasons, the Australian head of government usually will not specify another nation in these cases. The confirmation given to ABC appears to be off-the-record and not attributed.)
China is said to employ vast resources in cyberespionage and general disruptive cyberattacks. That’s been a long-time sore point with Western trading partners, including Australia. The general consensus is that China conducts both state sanctioned and separate cyber group attacks. China denies it conducts cyberwarfare and accuses the United States of conducting cyberespionage against China.
China-Australia relations getting worse by the day
The timing of this incident comes at a time when the relationship between the two nations has deteriorated astonishingly.
There have been some truly bizarre episodes in which:
• China suddenly raised barley tariffs to 80%.
• Other threats have been circulating regarding Australian exports to China, and these threats are very much unappreciated here.
• The Chinese ambassador referred to an Australian initiative for an enquiry into the coronavirus epidemic as a joke. This should have been grounds for the immediate removal of the ambassador, but we let it slide, this time. (How would China respond to a similar comment by a foreign ambassador?)
• Chinese students in Australia posting statements supporting Hong Kong protesters were targeted in Australian universities.
Australia has been attempting to address the trade issues and has got nowhere. The Australian Trade Minister has been largely ignored, another quite insufferable insult. It seems as though China has reverted to the fatal old Imperial view that China doesn’t need the world. As a matter of fact, China’s most prosperous eras for the last few thousand years have been when trade was good and relations with the world were also good.
As an exercise in “How to lose friends and influence nobody”, it’s a classic. China appears to be using the same tactics big countries have always used to intimidate smaller, poorer countries. That won’t work at all here. We’re a big, rich country. We don’t have to tolerate this boorish behaviour from anyone, and we won’t.
Australia’s reassessment of the relationship with China is being pushed hard into negative territory on literally a daily basis. We don’t need the petty jibes from Party lackeys or the truly weird, anti-business, tariffs.
We certainly don’t need the cyberwars. It’s a longstanding problem, and it’s a problem we can do without. The sheer cost of security alone is as good a reason as any to use other methods to manage the threat.
If China wants to talk, let’s set some ground rules:
• Due diplomatic courtesy at all times, and without fail.
• End the cyberattacks, permanently.
• Due respect for the interests of Australian and Chinese businesses trying to make a living.
It would be very easy for Australia to retaliate, hard, against Chinese investors and businesses. We’re not at that point, yet. The simple fact is that there should be no need to do so. Exactly why China is trying so hard to convince us that retaliation is required is anyone’s guess, but they’re succeeding.
The other option
There is an additional option. Government isn’t the only part of Australia thoroughly fed up with China’s arrogance and serial inconsistency in the relationship. It’s more than likely Australian businesses will go elsewhere rather than endure constantly changing Chinese trade positions. Add chronic ongoing cybersecurity risks into this unwholesome mix, and there’s no real reason to do business with China at all.
Why should we do business with any nation with such an unreliable approach to basic trade ties? Add the absolutely insufferable lack of basic courtesy, and utterly opaque, illogical, rationale for tariffs on “whatever we feel like”, and what’s the point?
This cyberattack, if it did come from China, proves one thing – It’s time for us to move on from China until some proven sanity returns. In the last month, China has done everything possible to make things worse, and there’s no sign of any effort to smooth things over. Better to move sooner rather than later, and not have to put up with more state-based problems.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Cyber attack Australia 2020, China cyberwarfare, China cyberespionage, Australia China relationship, Chinese tariffs on Australian exports
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