China Buying Australia: Not Just the Coal
Earlier this year, Sierra engaged Adam Minter, a young freelancer based in Shanghai, and Guy Pearse, a climate research fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia, to explore the relationship between their countries in "Addicts and Enablers." While Australia has an international reputation as a leader in addressing climate change, it is simultaneously shipping vast amounts of coal to Japan, Taiwan, and (increasingly) China. Meanwhile China is pouring vast resources into alternative energy--while simultaneously stepping up its burning of coal, the main fuel for its rapid industrial expansion.
Turns out that coal is not the half of it. In the latest Bloomberg Businessweek, Malcolm Knox pithily describes the two countries' relationship: "The deal is simple. Australia gets money, China gets Australia." For example, China now buys A$22 billion of Australian iron ore a year. China has long-term commitments to buy natural gas from Chevron in Australia, and has pumped billions of dollars in direct investment into a wide variety of mining projects. This is all great news for the enormous mining companies headquartered in Australia--BHP Billiton, Xstrata, Anglo, and Rio Tinto--not so much for ordinary Australians, like the Queensland farmers who are being strung along by Xstrata as it decides whether or not to buy out their family farms for a huge new coal mine. "A happy farming community has been turned into something else," says one resident of Wandoan. "You could say a lot of people wish the resources were somewhere else."