Me old china plate

Two stories, separate but thematically linked. The first about Chinese foreign policy starts with this.

Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon has warned that Australia will become “a tributary state” to China unless the Morrison government joins the US in forcefully challenging Chinese hegemony in the region.

And then this: from the Herald Sun.

Premier Daniel Andrews has made a big deal out of talking up the Australian content in Victoria’s huge $45 billion investment in infrastructure projects.

Local content should be a priority and, indeed, the government needs to keep construction unions inside the tent to contain costs and keep industrial peace.

Mr Andrews had pledged a minimum 92 per cent of Australian steel would be used in the $6.7 billion West Gate Tunnel project.

But as revealed Thursday by our state political editor Matt Johnston, contractors for the project have ordered a 33,000-tonne shipment of steel from the Chinese government-owned firm ZPMC.

There are serious questions about what agreements were touted by Mr Andrews to foreign investors during his trip to China last month. Mr Andrews, the only Premier to have signed on to China’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative, has previously said he would work to attract Chinese investment in Victoria’s infrastructure program.

No doubt imported Chinese steel would be a lot cheaper than Australian steel. But the decision may yet cost Mr Andrews much more in union fury and public faith.

The title, btw, is a bit of rhyming slang I learned when I first reached these shores those many years ago. Seems quite appropriate in the present context. And while I’m on it, if one is interested in free trade, this might be of interest: How does China cheat on trade? Let us count the ways.

China cheats by protecting its home market from American imports with high tariffs, tricky non-tariff barriers, and costly, constantly changing regulations.

China cheats by subsidizing the exports of government-owned “national champions” to crush its free market competitors and dominate global markets.

China cheats by preying on weak counties, locking up their natural resources with “debt traps” in an obvious effort to gain a global stranglehold on key resources like bauxite, copper, nickel, and rare earths. These monopolies are not only being used to fuel China’s industrial machine, but to punish those countries who would oppose its predatory policies.

China cheats by subsidizing manufacturing with cheap loans and cheap energy, and also by turning a blind eye to environment, health and safety standards. Because of its cheating, it already dominates industries ranging from ship production and refrigerators, to color TV sets, air conditioners, and computers.

Above all, China cheats by stealing key technologies and intellectual property from the United States and other countries. These activities range from cyberespionage and forced technology transfer down to massive open-source collection and plain-old physical theft.

Economics is and has always been a subset of politics. No economics text can ever tell you what ought to be done, only what the consequences of different decisions might turn out to be. And a modern text doesn’t even do that.