Topics: Albanese not transparent on talks with President Xi
Monday, 20 November 2023
David Lipson: Senator Birmingham, thanks for your time. The Prime Minister says that these issues have been raised by Australia in the appropriate way. Very clearly, unequivocally, and that China’s under no misunderstanding on Australia’s view on this matter. Why is that not good enough for you?
Simon Birmingham: David, there are two issues. One goes to the transparency and the other the adequacy of the Albanese Government’s response. Firstly, the Prime Minister continues to dodge being transparent about when he knew, how he was informed and the actions that he and other government figures may have directly taken themselves. And then the question of adequacy being about whether the Prime Minister has seized every opportunity in terms of making Australia’s views clear and plain, because ultimately this is not a one off incident from China. It is part of a concerning pattern of behaviour that does warrant the strongest and the highest possible level of representation by Australia.
David Lipson: Okay, let’s address those two things. First of all, the transparency matter. The Coalition, when it was in government, tried to make a very public spat with China. It didn’t end well. I mean, you couldn’t even get your counterpart to answer the phone. So is it really the best course of action for the Prime Minister for the government to be telegraphing everything that it said and the means in which it’s said?
Simon Birmingham: We don’t expect chapter and verse detail of conversation, but to be transparent about whether an issue is raised. That is something that Australians would expect. They would expect that our Prime Minister should raise Australia’s concerns about the safety of Australian Defence Force personnel when that’s put in danger by another country, and they would expect that the Prime Minister of our nation, that Prime Minister Albanese would confirm that he’d raised it, and the fact that he’s dodging or being evasive about whether or not he raised it will only lead people to draw the conclusion that he probably didn’t.
David Lipson: Okay. On adequacy of response. What should the government do?
Simon Birmingham: The government should have been making clear at the highest levels, and particularly given Prime Minister Albanese had a unique opportunity to raise these concerns direct with President Xi Jinping. They should have been raised to make sure-
David Lipson: Do you accept they may have been raised, though?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think it is unlikely because we know when Prime Minister Albanese met with President Xi just a couple of weeks ago, he confirmed after those meetings that he had raised the plight of Dr. Yang Hengjun. He raised different trade concerns. He’d apparently raised concerns about other Chinese military behaviour in the South China Sea. So the fact that a readout is given as to the list of topics covered is perfectly normal and to be expected. Except on this occasion-
David Lipson: But that was a formal meeting. I mean, this was a pull aside as it’s known, which is a very informal meeting just on the sidelines of APEC. It’s not so normal for any sort of readout in a pull aside, is it?
Simon Birmingham: David, it’s perfectly acceptable and understandable between countries for leaders to identify that they have raised an issue and particularly an issue as serious as this. And it does go to the pattern of China’s behaviour. This is not the first occasion where Australia’s defence personnel have found their safety in jeopardy because of inappropriate actions by China. And it comes at a time where just in the last couple of days, we’ve seen an escalation of Chinese military activity across the Taiwan Strait. Over the last few months, we’ve seen repeated violations by China in the South China Sea of international law and actions against the Philippines. All of these types of events just increase the risk of miscalculation, of error that could have truly tragic consequences and risk an escalation that none of us want to see. That’s why Prime Minister Albanese should have raised in very clear terms with President Xi how seriously we take this issue, because it’s about getting China to change the way it behaves, not just towards Australia, but more broadly across the region, so that we can have greater confidence about the security and safety of everyone within our region.
David Lipson: Senator Simon Birmingham, thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, David. My pleasure.