Beijing’s confrontation with Australia should have been an unequal contest. That’s not how it worked out in practice.
“Chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes.” That’s how Hu Xijin, the editor of the Chinese Communist Party–run Global Times, described Australia last year. The disparaging description is typical of the disdain that China’s diplomats and propagandists have often shown toward governments that challenge Beijing—like Australia’s.
China is now the great power of Asia—or so Beijing believes—but those pesky Australians, mouthing off about human rights and coronavirus investigations, refuse to bend the knee. Beijing has turned to economic pressure to compel Australia to fall in line. “Sometimes you have to find a stone to rub it off,” Hu wrote, of the gum and of Australia. But the Australians have proved impossible to shake, and have instead caused some embarrassment for their image-obsessed tormentor.