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US Shows Unity in Support of Australia as Canberra Takes On Beijing


President-elect Joe Biden's national security adviser nominee Jake Sullivan speaks at The Queen theater, Nov. 24, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.

The incoming U.S. administration of President-elect Joe Biden is signaling its support for Australia in that nation’s increasingly bitter wine war with China.

“The Australian people have made great sacrifices to protect freedom and democracy around the world,” said Jake Sullivan, Biden’s nominee for the post of national security adviser, in a recent tweet.

“As we have for a century, America will stand shoulder to shoulder with our ally Australia and rally fellow democracies to advance our shared security, prosperity, and values.”

That message has received more than 5,000 "likes," many from Australia, which has been suffering from a series of punitive trade measures from Beijing — including tariffs of up to 200% on Australian wine — since it called for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in China.

“Fantastic to hear the support for us in Aust.,” said one Twitter follower in response to Sullivan’s tweet. “However it's more than words we need. As we have stood shoulder to shoulder with the US on previous occasions in various conflicts. What is happening is a new kind of war and we need allies to #punishchina the same as it [is] doing to us.”

The administration of President Donald Trump is also showing its support for the besieged Australian winemakers. A message from the National Security Council noted this week that “Australian wine will be featured at a White House holiday reception this week. Pity vino lovers in China who, due to Beijing’s coercive tariffs on Aussie vintners, will miss out.”

China skeptics from London to Tokyo are also developing a taste for Australian wine as part of a campaign launched by a British foreign affairs commentator and taken up by an international coalition of legislators known as the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC).

In a video message, lawmakers from Italy, Japan, Sweden, Britain, Germany, Slovakia and the United States, among others, urged worldwide supporters to purchase and drink “a bottle or two of Australian wine, and let the Chinese Communist Party know that we will not be bullied.”

Sullivan issued his message of support for Australia the day after IPAC launched its multilateral campaign and after the current NSC issued its message of support.

Biden has emphasized on numerous occasions that his administration places a high premium on alliance-building and will work to fashion joint responses to challenges posed by Beijing.

Kurt Campbell, a former senior Democratic administration official in charge of Asia-Pacific affairs, recently expressed the hope that the Biden team will work to reverse the impression that American policy lacks continuity because of the regular changes of leadership.

“The challenge oftentimes in American policies is that successive governments tend to think that the practices of previous governments should all be thrown out, should be put in the ash heap of history and completely reinvent everything,” said Campbell, who served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 2009 to 2013.

Speaking to a gathering hosted by Policy Exchange, a London-based think tank, Campbell credited the Trump administration for some of its foreign policy initiatives. While acknowledging that many European nations have disliked Trump’s policies, he said, “there are many in Asia that have some attraction to elements of the Trump approach to Asia.”

A visitor wearing a face mask to protect against the coronavirus looks at a display of Australian wines at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai on Nov. 5, 2020.
A visitor wearing a face mask to protect against the coronavirus looks at a display of Australian wines at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai on Nov. 5, 2020.

These included “a cold-hearted assessment of China’s ambitions and recognizing that great power politics is going to be with us going forward,” he said.

That assessment was voiced at the same Policy Forum event by Matthew Pottinger, Trump’s deputy national security adviser, who warned the virtual audience not to underestimate the psychological warfare Beijing is waging.

“No regime has more riding on its ability to influence the perceptions, policies and priorities of foreign populations than the Chinese Communist Party,” Pottinger said. “The [Chinese Communist] Party’s overseas propaganda has two consistent themes: ‘We own the future, so make your adjustments now.’ And: ‘We’re just like you, so try not to worry.’"

Biden told VOA on the sidelines of an event held in September 2019 at the Council on Foreign Relations that his last sit-down conversation with Chinese Communist Party and state leader Xi Jinping took place “at Davos” in 2017. Davos is the Swiss resort town that plays host to the World Economic Forum.

Both men delivered speeches at the forum that year.