Topics: PM trip to China; CPTPP; Greens walk-out of Senate; Israel-Hamas conflict;
Tuesday, 7 November 2023
David Lipson: Simon Birmingham thank you for a time. Do you give the Government credit for getting relations back on the right path, as Xi Jinping claims they are?
Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning, David. We welcome stabilisation and we welcome the fact that China decided to end its ban on ministerial level engagement with Australia. It is important that we try to pursue stability and Australia’s interests wherever possible. But it’s also critical that the Australian government remain clear eyed about China and the challenges it poses. Just in the space of the last month in the lead up to this visit. We have seen Australia’s and other international security chiefs provide new warnings about the extent of Chinese cyber espionage. We’ve seen the Chinese navy undertake aggressive action against the Philippines in the South China Sea, and we’ve seen China’s president host Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, in a yet further extension of the so-called no limits partnership that China has entered into with warmongering Russia. So, there are real challenges that we need to maintain very clear focus on as Australia. It’s important that whilst this visit might be positive, the Albanese government not get any rose-coloured glasses about the challenges that are there as well.
David Lipson: The Prime Minister said this meeting was not transactional. Can you understand if he comes home without a fresh breakthrough on trade, or without an assurance about whether Yang Hengjun will be released?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Australians will ultimately judge the outcomes from these types of trips, and that’s not unreasonable for Australians to expect their government to secure outcomes. The importance there is that our wine industry shouldn’t have to wait a further five months for China to potentially remove what are coercive and unjustified tariffs and sanctions on the wine industry. Nor should our live seafood exporters or our meat industry continue to face punishment from China. Nor should Yang Hengjun be indefinitely or arbitrarily detained.
David Lipson: Is there anything the government could do about those issues to speed them up?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we have to hope that Mr. Albanese put the strongest possible case in all of his meetings, and that he continues to do so in his engagements in China, and that the government continues to apply maximum advocacy and maximum pressure, where possible, for the removal of these sanctions. Australia should be proud of the fact that we have withstood China’s attempts at economic coercion. That as a nation, we have not given in to the list of 14 demands that was infamously provided by the Chinese embassy and that’s a testament to Australian industry and Australian business in their resilience. It’s also a reminder, though, of the importance to continue economic diversification. The previous Coalition government, after these sanctions were put in place, secured new trade agreements with the United Kingdom and with India. The Albanese Government is yet to secure any new trade agreements and with the breakdown in talks with the European Union, look some distance from doing so. But it needs a clear diversification strategy to make sure that we do minimise risk in the future of China acting or attempting with similar coercive efforts.
David Lipson: President Xi asserted China’s wish to join the CPTPP trade pact. You’ve said that’s not appropriate at this time. How long would China have to prove it plays by the rules of trade before you’d be happy to see them join that pact?
Simon Birmingham: Well, there are two big tests there, David. The first one you allude to, which is that China has been anything but a good citizen when it comes to trade in recent years. Its punishment of Australia, its weaponisation of trade and its breaches of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement mean that it would not be appropriate for us right now to be looking at extending membership of another trade agreement to China who have acted in such bad faith in recent years. But then there are substantive questions to be addressed as well. The CPTPP has some of the highest standards in the world, including, for example, for how state-owned enterprises operate. And we would have to expect and demand to see reforms in China to the transparency and operation of those state-owned enterprises before you could countenance China meeting the very high standards of the CPTPP.
David Lipson: On the Israel-Gaza war. The Greens walked out of the Senate yesterday over what they say is government inaction over the conflict. Can you understand their concerns? With 10,000 people reported killed in Gaza in just a month, about a third of them children?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I want to separate the two issues here. The Greens stunt did nothing and this comes after the Australian Greens voted against the condemnation of Hamas for their attacks on Israel. And so, the Greens have no credibility in this space and their stunts, their pathetic actions, just seek to weaken Australia and undermine our position. Of course, though, the humanitarian concerns are real, the loss of any innocent lives, particularly of any innocent children, is a tragedy. Whether that is a Palestinian child, an Israeli child or any other child are heartbreaks and grieves for that is a terrible function, sadly, of war. And the challenge here is trying to see Hamas removed as quickly and effectively as possible for any position of power and influence and ability to create further terrorist strikes and actions. We want to see that happen as quickly as possible, so that hopefully we can see a stabilisation and ultimately longer-term peace discussions between Israel and Palestinians to establish a viable, peaceful outcome for the future.
David Lipson: Senator Birmingham, we’ll leave it there. Thanks for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you David. My pleasure.