China’s unprecedented trade campaign against Australia is a case study in economic coercion for geopolitical purposes. Its aim is twofold: to bend Canberra to Beijing’s will and to decouple it from the US alliance system. Australia has withstood such pressure to date, but needs American support.
This paper argues that the Biden Administration should lead in helping Australia and other targeted countries to defend themselves against China’s coercive practices. The aim should be to build the broadest possible coalition of the willing through a multi-pronged strategy that plays to America’s strengths by building a united front of democracies; recalibrating US diplomacy with like-minded countries; supporting agile multilateralism; and prioritising neglected ties with Southeast Asia.
Countering China’s trade coercion is a necessary defensive measure to protect the prosperity and security of every nation that values its sovereignty and an open trading system. Capitulation would embed the use of coercion in a new, China-dominated authoritarian world order in which smaller states risk being reduced to vassals. Conversely, US support for Australia would send a powerful signal to friends and competitors alike that the Biden Administration is prepared to resume a global leadership role after Donald Trump’s America First approach.