Canadian barley growers exploiting Australia’s troubles with China expose a vulnerability in any democratic alliance against Beijing

Australia is China’s favourite punching bag. Beijing has put up tariff walls to block imports of Australian barley and wine, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the world’s second-biggest economy is refusing shipments of beef, coal, lobster and timber from Down Under.

By most accounts, Australia’s government is being punished for speaking its mind. Among the offences: Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s call last April for an international investigation into China’s early handling of COVID-19, which was first detected in Wuhan in late 2019. Duties on barley went up the following month.

China’s willingness to throw its weight around has become a major concern for the biggest democracies. There is plenty of talk in Europe, North America and parts of Asia about strengthening alliances and showing solidarity with those that get knocked around by Beijing’s methods.

But if linking arms is the plan, someone forgot to send the memo to Canada’s barley farmers. Their entirely acceptable (and predictable) rush to exploit Australia’s predicament exposes a vulnerability in the West’s new containment strategy: to beat China, they will have to behave more like China. It’s unclear they have the stomach for it.

Canadian barley, which is used to make beer and livestock feed, had become something of an afterthought on the Prairies in recent years, usurped in the cash-crop hierarchy by lentils and peas, staples of vegan and vegetarian diets.

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