Topics: Pelosi visit to Taiwan; Australia-China relationship; Labor’s climate bill;
Natasha Exelby: Joining us now to talk more about this from Canberra is Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Simon Birmingham. Senator, thank you so much for your time this morning. Curious to get your thoughts. Was Nancy Pelosi wise to make this journey? And what do you think she was hoping to achieve by failing to heed China’s warning?
Simon Birmingham: Morning, Tash. Well, there have been many congressional delegations to Taiwan over the years. This is another one, yes with the Speaker of the House of Representatives participating. But it’s a matter for Nancy Pelosi in the United States in terms of the decisions made about her visit. But Taiwan is a very important economic partner in our region. It’s a vibrant democracy. It’s a partner for many Australian businesses. And the type of response we’re seeing from China of increased military activity and an escalation of live firing exercises and the like, that is of concern and this should be kept in terms of perspective, a proportionate response to simply a visit rather than this type of enhanced military escalation that does then risk further responses, further escalation or of course, mistake or misadventure.
Natasha Exelby: You talk a lot about there about further escalation and certainly 22 missiles have been fired, I think, in the last 24 hours across Taiwan since the speaker’s departure. We are a very close ally of the US, whilst it was not Australia’s decision to send her over there. So does this put our region in a less safe position?
Simon Birmingham: The fact that we’re seeing this enhanced military activity within our broader region is of concern. And what I would urge is for the parties and in particular China, who have enhanced the military activities to de-escalate. It is simply dangerous and unhelpful to see this enhanced activity for crossovers to happen into economic zones of Taiwan, for the type of live firing exercises to be undertaken. They all enhance the risk, the risk that a mistake could occur, the risk of military misadventure, or of course, the risk that there is some further response in some way. And none of that is good for the peace and prosperity of our region. We want to see tensions ease rather than escalate.
Natasha Exelby: You are very well versed in trade and foreign affairs, though. So what do you anticipate that China’s next move will be? I mean, has Ms. Pelosi forced Xi Jinping to act assertively in order to save face really?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Nancy Pelosi’s visit has come to an end now. China has been undertaking these military exercises. They’re scheduled to continue for another couple of days. Whilst we would wish that they occur in the safest possible way if they have to happen and prefer to see them desist. Ultimately, hopefully this will be the limit of the response and that the region can manage to move on. However, it does create a heightened sense of tension, heightened risk and that’s not good for anybody.
Natasha Exelby: No, no. Now, US exports around $124.5 billion worth of goods to China each year, imports $345 billion. I think Australia itself, we export around $102 billion worth of goods. So is it really good to be picking a fight with one of our biggest trading partners?
Simon Birmingham: Well, China is our largest trading partner. And it’s an important economic partner and has been an important regional partner for us at different times. We’ve had a difficult relationship in the last few years as China has applied economic coercion to Australia through different trade sanctions that it’s levelled against Australia. Those have been unfair and unjustified. We have differences over certain issues, be that the treatment of people in the Xinjiang province, human rights issues, the detention of Australian citizens, these are all genuine points of difference and concern over China’s increased military activities, particularly in the South China Sea. But we would prefer to see dialogue and an ability to work through these issues and urge China to be willing to work with the now Australian Government and to be able to put aside the points of difference and work in the areas where we can cooperate for the peace and stability of our region, because that’s what’s helped to lift so many people out of poverty in recent decades right across South East Asia.
Natasha Exelby: And finally and briefly, Senator, a small segway. The Greens have agreed to support Labor’s climate target. We are having a sitting Parliament today. The Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, is pushing for a pivot to nuclear energy. Where do you stand on that?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Tash, I welcome the higher ambition in relation to climate change. The Government themselves have said this legislation isn’t necessary. They’ve already committed Australia through the Paris Agreement to the 43% target. I look forward to us achieving as much by way of emissions reduction as possible. But it is the reality too that if we are to achieve net zero, if we are to have stability in our energy systems as well, then pretty much every other country who is on a similar pathway of trying to achieve net zero has nuclear energy as part of their mix. It doesn’t generate emissions. It can provide stability to work alongside renewable energy. When you do have those gaps in terms of renewable generation. And so it’s worth having that close analysis. And it’s disappointing that Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party have got such a closed mind to that option.
Natasha Exelby: Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham, thank you so much for your time this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Tash. My pleasure.