Topics: Mr Albanese meeting with Xi Jinping; Australia-China relationship; President Biden meeting with Xi Jinping; Protesting against Russian representation at leaders summits;
15 November 2022
Peter Stefanovic: Well, back to our top story now. This is ahead of Anthony Albanese’s meeting with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, in Bali tonight. And joining us live for his reaction now is a Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham, live in Sydney. Simon, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So, it all sounds fairly positive. What’s your message ahead of Albanese’s meeting tonight?
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Pete. It’s good to be with you. Look, dialogue is always preferable to stand off. And the fact that China for recent times was refusing to engage in ministerial level dialogue with Australia was entirely counterproductive. So, it’s very welcome to see that change of direction from China. It’s pleasing to see that at this first face to face leaders summit to happen since 2019, we’re seeing significant moments such as President Joe Biden from the United States sitting down for lengthy talks with President Xi Jinping of China. This is the type of dialogue that the world needs to see. It needs to be frank, as I gather it was. I welcome the fact that President Biden, in his readout, spoke very clearly about the fact that he worked through those discussions in a way to try to ensure that the competition that we do face and see and is a reality doesn’t move closer to conflict at any stage. And that, of course, is what we would all wish to see, that we can ensure peace and prosperity across the Indo-Pacific region between the world’s major powers, but also importantly, that China acts in ways that respects the sovereignty and the rights of other nations, including all of those throughout our region and including Australia.
Peter Stefanovic: Right. Yeah. Well, back to Albanese’s meeting tonight. What do you hope comes out of it?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the test of dialogue are always the outcomes that are achieved. And what we need to see from an Australian perspective is progress towards the removal of the trade sanctions that China has unfairly put in place on Australia. The type of unfair, unjustified attempts at economic coercion or punishment that China have applied need to be removed. And that involves direct trade sanctions such as the tariffs on our wine and barley industries, as well as the indirect trade sanctions that have put barriers in place for Australia’s meat exporters. Live seafood, forestry, a range of different sectors that have been impacted by different administrative approaches, customs barriers and the like in place from China. We also need to have confidence that the cases of Australians detained in very sensitive legal proceedings in China are raised to try to ensure that those individuals receive fair treatment, swift treatment and ideally passage back to Australia. There are of course a range of other sensitive regional issues, particularly in relation to China’s militarisation in parts of the South China Sea as well as it being very important that the government be consistent in terms of Australia’s advocacy on human rights matters such as the treatment of Uyghur populations in Xinjiang.
Peter Stefanovic: Would a better relationship change Australia’s approach if China were to make a move on Taiwan?
Simon Birmingham: Well Pete, we all hope that that it doesn’t come to that Australia’s position in relation to a bipartisan one China policy, but one in which we also have good relations with Taiwan and don’t wish to see any unilateral change to the status quo in Taiwan is one that that the previous government held, the current government holds, and that is consistent moving forward. And it’s important that we in urging China to act in ways that respect peace in our region are consistent in that message and also consistent in the message to China that they should only act in ways that respects the will of people such as those in Taiwan.
Peter Stefanovic: I mean, Xi Jinping told Joe Biden in as many words last night that Taiwan was a non-starter, that the US shouldn’t get involved. But if we are expected to meet China halfway in trade talks, might we then have to step back if it were to fulfil its ambitions and invade Taiwan down the track?
Simon Birmingham: Well, let me be very clear. The meeting halfway rhetoric is China’s rhetoric and has no substance. If it is a rhetorical line for Beijing press and Communist Party media, well, that’s fine. But the reality is that the economic coercion attempts being made on Australia, the trade sanctions applied on Australia, are unfair, they’re unjustified. There’s not a halfway point in relation to those. Those sanctions ought to be lifted. Now, they may not all be lifted instantly, but they ought to come off and they should be coming off swiftly. There’s nothing for Australia to give in that regard. What Australia has done in recent years to strengthen our foreign interference laws, to strengthen the protection of our critical infrastructure in Australia, to strengthen our foreign investment regimes. All of these things are entirely justified actions for a sovereign nation to do to protect its democracy, to protect its core assets. They’re the types of things that we can’t be compromising on. The government, I think, is being clear in that, and I welcome that. And so there’s not a half way point as some in the Chinese media have said.
Peter Stefanovic: Can Xi Jinping be trusted?
Simon Birmingham: We have to enter into these discussions in good faith, as the Prime Minister has said, and we would agree with that. So you’ve got to go in there in good faith. You’ve also got to go in there with a firmness of position in terms of an intent to raise the difficult issues, to make sure that in raising those issues, you’re clear about the fact that Australia expects them to be dealt with. We know we won’t always agree. We are two very different countries with different systems of government, different values in different ways and different cultural backgrounds, but we have much that is complementary and that complementarity has helped both our countries in recent decades to grow, to achieve economic success. And so to focus on the positives and try to make sure that the real barriers that have been put in place by China in recent years are removed so that the relationship can focus on those points.
Peter Stefanovic: You mentioned that change of direction and you famously couldn’t get your counterparts on the phone. What do you put this development down to? Is it better diplomacy or is it that China simply is facing internal economic pressures and needs some economic lines open again?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ve come through a period where China reacted to the types of decisions that I spoke about before from Australia, decisions such as those in relation to Huawei or a range of different reforms that were made by the Turnbull and Morrison governments to ensure that Australia’s security laws are protection around investment and infrastructure and the like were fit for purpose, fit for the times that we face. And there were negative reactions from those changes. Time has elapsed. Yes, there is a new government in place and there is, with that an opportunity for at least a restart of discussions. And the fact that China has backed down from the ban on discussions is welcome. As I said before, that was entirely counterproductive. The last thing that you should cancel is the ability to talk, and yet that is what China did. So we welcome the fact that they have come back to the table. We wish the Albanese Government well in those discussions. We trust that they will go into those discussions with a firm clear direction to try to make sure that Australia’s exporters get a better deal in the future, have these punitive sanctions removed from them, as well as advancing those sensitive consular cases and standing true to principles around respect, international law and the South China Sea, as well as respect for basic human rights.
Peter Stefanovic: Just a final one here, Simon before we go. Anthony Albanese, he won’t protest against Russia as a mark of respect for the Indonesian hosts. Is that the right thing to do?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I understand the sensitivity that Anthony Albanese is trying to manage there, but I do think it is always preferable if these actions are coordinated and consistent amongst like-minded nations. And so if we’re in a position where Australia is not doing the same thing as the United Kingdom or Canada or other like-minded nations, then I think that is unfortunate and it would have been preferable to all for all to ensure there was a consistency in how to register a protest against Russia while still being respectful towards the hosts in Indonesia.
Peter Stefanovic: Simon Birmingham, the Shadow Foreign Minister, I appreciate your time. We’ll talk to you again soon.