Australia is about to pass a law to get tough with China

Australian lawmakers are getting set to take on the might of our largest trading partner, China.

The economic juggernaut accounts for almost one-quarter of our international trade (23.1%, according to DFAT), and is almost as big as our next three trading partners, combined (in order, USA at 9.6%, Japan at 9.1% and South Korea at 4.8%). And it has been, according to some policy wonks and at least one parliamentarian (speaking under parliamentary privilege), meddling and Australia’s politicians are set to stop it.

And our pollies have been unusually frank and undiplomatic. As Reuters reports, Prime Minister Turnbull did invoke China — in a move that upset relations and may have caused import delays for the likes of Treasury Wine Estates Ltd (ASX: TWE) and others. Per Reuters, Turnbull is quoted as highlighting “disturbing reports about Chinese influence” last year when discussing the new laws. The outcome could also shape the futures of vitamin maker Blackmores Limited (ASX: BKL) and dairy companies A2 Milk Company Ltd (ASX: A2M) and Bellamy’s Australia Ltd (ASX: BAL), among others.

Of course, Australia isn’t alone. And China isn’t the only target of investigations and responses to cross-border influence. The US continues to probe potential links between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, while Facebook, Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a seemingly endless list of invitations to speak to lawmakers the world over, as the world comes to terms with that company’s role in (inadvertently) shaping the ‘news’ — fake and otherwise — that we see.

But it does come amidst Chinese telco supplier Huawei being potentially excluded from working on new 5G networks in Australia and on the same day that the company’s local boss, John Lord, addresses the National Press Club, saying, according to a transcript in The Guardian:

“We respect the right of any government, and every government, to consider national risk and national security. Huawei is always open to discuss the best options to enable Australia to have access to the best technology that is safe and secure for its citizens.”

But back to the new laws. The so-called ‘foreign interference’ bill is to be introduced by the government and is almost certain to be backed by the opposition after the two parties agreed on terms.

It’s impossible for the layperson to know whether this is a response to a past, current or future threat… or how much of this is a political solution to get the ‘foreign donations’ dog whistle off the front pages, and for both parties to be seen to be doing something on ‘donation reform’.

What we do know is that China is none-too-pleased. And while Australia’s sovereignty should ever be paramount, we confront China at our economic peril.

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Scott Phillips has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. owns shares of and recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool Australia owns shares of and has recommended Blackmores Limited. The Motley Fool Australia owns shares of A2 Milk. The Motley Fool Australia has recommended Facebook and Treasury Wine Estates Limited. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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