Topics: Mr Albanese meeting with Xi Jinping; President Biden meeting with Xi Jinping; Bipartisan trip to the Pacific;

02:35PM AEDT
15 November 2022


Kieran Gilbert:  Let’s bring in the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. It’s been six years since a formal bilateral between Australia’s Prime Minister and the Chinese President. Do you welcome this thaw in relations?


Simon Birmingham: Well hello, Kieran. I do. I welcome the fact that China has ended its cessation of ministerial level meetings. It was entirely counterproductive for China to do so. These are, of course, the first face to face meetings as part of the summit season of international leaders since 2019. It’s pleasing to see President Joe Biden having had his first meeting with Xi Jinping face to face in some five years and his first clearly as US president in that time. It’s pleasing to see China doing the same with Australia. What’s important is that Australia goes into that meeting in good faith but also firm in our position in terms of our national interest and in terms of the types of changes that we need to see from China for them to be acting as a good faith partner with Australia.


Kieran Gilbert: Well, the meeting has come with no preconditions. Do you give the Government, the Prime Minister and the Albanese Government credit for holding the line on those key issues, the points of value and the other demands that China had made on Australia? There’s been no relenting from this Government.


Simon Birmingham: Kieran, bipartisanship in areas of foreign policy has always been a hallmark of much of Australia’s engagement and it remains very important the types of decisions taken by the Turnbull and Morrison governments to ensure that we put national interest even more strongly in terms of Australia’s foreign investment regime, that we provided for critical protections of our critical national infrastructure, that we ensured that we had foreign interference laws in Australia. These were all essential reforms in changing times to make sure Australia is well prepared and well protected for the future. And the Government is right to stand by those sorts of measures, to not buy into the type of rhetoric from some parts of the Chinese system about meeting halfway. And I trust in the meeting that occurs, Prime Minister Albanese will be equally firm and clear in terms of what our expectations should be of China in relation to trade sanctions, in relation to Australians detained in China, in relation to respect for international law in our region and for basic human rights.


Kieran Gilbert: Now, you touched on the meeting between President Biden and President Xi. Do you welcome the fact that that Biden is saying that the Cold War can be averted? In fact, he says, I don’t think there’s any imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan. Do I believe he’s willing to compromise on certain issues? Yes, says Biden. So it seems like they on that front, not just did they meet for 3 hours, but there was some progress.


Simon Birmingham: It was obviously a very long meeting as you just referenced. And by all accounts, quite a forthright meeting, which is very welcome. The fact that President Biden made clear that, yes, there is clearly the era of competition that we live in and of strategic competition between two great powers and two big economies, but that they want to ensure that that competition does not lead to conflict is essential. And so that, of course, is the type of framework in which Australia has long argued that we need to make sure we are working towards peace and prosperity within our region. That does require China to operate in ways that has respect for the international rules based system, that has respect for the sovereignty of other nations, that doesn’t contain through the militarisation of our region and particularly of sea channels and other means of transport throughout the region. And critically, in the case of Australia, that we see a cessation of these attempts at economic coercion, that the types of trade sanctions imposed we’re seeking to apply.


Kieran Gilbert: While China hasn’t condemned Russia for the Ukraine invasion, it does look like it’s put China in a position of rethinking its own place in the world. Is that your view?


Simon Birmingham: Well, there were certainly indications when President Xi met with President Putin that indicated China had made clear some dissatisfaction with Russia. We would urge them to go further in that regard, that China is in a unique position to be able to apply greater pressure to Russia to cease its illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine. But Prime Minister Albanese and all leaders at the G20 used this opportunity to send clear messages to Russia that it should cease the invasion, it should cease the occupation of territories, it should cease this disruption, not just that is, of course, causing such human suffering and loss of life in Ukraine, but has created such massive disruption to energy markets and economies right across Europe and around the world.


Keiran Gilbert: Now, Simon Birmingham, you mentioned the bipartisanship on foreign policy and areas like this is an important thing. Penny Wong spoke about a similar issue in her recent Whitlam oration. In fact she said that Simon Birmingham is one of the more decent people in the Parliament. But she said that decency must be matched by action to have effect. In this lies real leadership. So she’s urging you to reject this as her, quote, reject the rending of national unity as a craven political tactic. Do you?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I’ll be judged by what I’ve said in interviews and comments, just as this one we’ve been having here. It’s for others to assess whether in terms of supporting that degree of bipartisanship, acknowledging as I did, that the Albanese Government is standing firm and true to the types of reforms and measures that the Morrison and Turnbull governments put in place to help to strengthen and protect Australia in these more challenging strategic times. That is, is the consistency that I bring. I acknowledge that position-


Kieran Gilbert: But Scott Morrison also called Richard Marles the Manchurian candidate.


Simon Birmingham: Well, we could go back over the last election. And equally I think there was some politicisation from the Labor Party of things such as the relationship with the Solomon Islands, that in the time since we can see that managing those relationships is not as simple or as straightforward as perhaps pretended by the Labor Party when in opposition. We live in a democracy in which we have fierce political debates from time to time. But on the whole, we ought to make sure that where we can, we speak with one voice to the world, particularly when it comes to standing up for our national interest.


Kieran Gilbert: And you’ll be accompanying Penny Wong to the Pacific, as I understand it, over coming weeks. What’s the importance of that?


Simon Birmingham: So, I wrote to Minister Wong back in July of this year proposing that just as Julie Bishop as Foreign Minister, had taken Penny Wong as Shadow Minister to the Pacific to demonstrate the bipartisanship of Australia’s support for Pacific Island nations, that there may be benefit following a change of government for something similar to occur. I’m pleased that Penny Wong has acknowledged and accepted that and I look forward to working with her to send again that message of unity that regardless of who is in government in Australia, we recognise our unique place and special place working alongside Pacific Island nations as partners and that we’re committed to doing so in the national interest and the regional interest.


Kieran Gilbert: Simon Birmingham, thanks. Talk to you soon.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Kieran. My pleasure.