The spate of destructive measures against Australian exports, the ugly Twitter assault and the associated commentary from Chinese officials speak to something much larger than offence at Australia’s calls for an investigation of the origins of the coronavirus, or criticisms of China’s actions in Hong Kong or treatment of the Uighurs. The obvious answer is that the Chinese are fearful that Australia’s stance will lead to a wider coalition of like-minded countries finally acting together on the common complaints they have about China and its increasingly aggressive behaviours. It fears a decoupling of its economy from the West.
The Trump administration discouraged international consensus by waging trade wars on friends and foes alike. It disdained multilateral institutions. As a result, China’s relationships with other nations have been bilateral and uneven ones.