Have We Left It Too Late To Put The Chinese Genie Back In The Bottle?

China has demonstrated an abiding interest in the physical health of Australians by quietly buying up Australian hospitals and increasing its footprint in our medical industry.

But some analysts are saying this ostensibly benign investment strategy is a stalking horse for more sinister aspirations of our important northern trading partner.

China’s aggressive push has been likened to “wolf-pack diplomacy”.

Recent examples of Chinese investment in Australia’s healthcare industry include:

  • The $930 million acquisition of Healthe Care, Australia’s third largest corporate private hospital operator, by Chinese billionaire Liu Dian Bo. Healthe Care had already stood down 800 staff and put in doubt 8000 beds at 34 private hospitals across Australia after the Federal Government cancelled elective surgeries in response to the COVID-19 spread; and
  • The purchase of vitamins and supplements maker Swisse Wellness for more than $1.5 billion.

Analysts have suggested Australian private hospital heavyweights, Ramsay Health Care and Healthscope, may well be the next plum targets in the sights of Chinese investors keen to gain a foothold in our world-class health system.

The strategy of China buying into a ready-made healthcare system makes perfect sense.

Despite rapid advances in China’s healthcare system, China still spends less than the global average on the health of its people – $US480 per capita per annum versus the OECD average of $US3484.

In 2012 it set aside 5.4% of GDP on this sector, less than the OECD average of 9.3% and under a third of the 16.9% spent by the United States.

Latest figures show that China has 1.6 doctors per thousand people, which is half the OECD average, and just 1.8 nurses per thousand people compared to the OECD’s average of 8.8 nurses.

The keen interest shown in our healthcare industry has led to speculation that China is looking to set Australia up as a medical holiday destination for its citizens with profits siphoned back to China through a cocoon of CCP-controlled medical facilities.

This would have a dramatic effect on Australia’s national economy.

On a broader scale, Chines Communist Party-backed entities have been quietly building strategic beach heads in countries around the world through its BRI under the guise of a benevolent investor.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the West’s heavy exposure to the whims of the Middle Kingdom through its heavy reliance on cheap Chinese-made PPE (personal protection equipment) and medications as well as other general-use products.

As a result, many of China’s trading partners are looking to bring some manufacturing back onshore for supply security purposes.

The tit-for-tat trade war between the United States, our major ally, and China has brought into sharp focus the level of the CCP’s penetration into our everyday commercial, political and cultural lives, leading some observers to believe Australia’s national sovereignty could be at risk from the malevolent, expansionist policies of the CCP.

Recent examples that we know of include:

  • The aggressive roll-out of the Chinese Government’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) throughout the world with particular emphasis on the CCP’s growing intrusion into the neighbouring South Pacific region;
  • The Chinese Government’s aggressive takeover of disputed islands and sea lanes in the South China and West Philippines Seas;
  • Continued expansion of forward defence bases in the disputed area despite a ruling in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 against China’s land and sea grab;
  • The decision to allow the Chinese Government to purchase a 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin from the Northern Territory Government;
  • Meddling in Australia’s political system through the cultivation of complicit political operatives;
  • The acquisition of arable lands around the world to shore up China’s food security; and
  • Buying up strategic Australian industries.

China’s enthusiastic embrace of facial recognition and artificial intelligence technology has led to a crackdown on Chinese companies including Huawei, WeChat and TikTok after claims that these platforms were able to spy on users.

While the West has belatedly begun to push back against the growing incursion of the CCP into the fabric of our lives, have we left it too late to put the Chinese genie back into the bottle?

Time will tell.