Topics:PM China visit; Australia-China relationship; Israel-Hamas conflict,

09:25AM AEDT
Friday, 3 November 2023

Laura Jayes: Good to see you. Senator, first of all, Anthony Albanese leaves to China tomorrow. It’s a pretty historic trip and one that I think is a good sign. But what does a successful trip for Anthony Albanese look like in your view?

Simon Birmingham: Hello, LJ. It’s good to be with you. The stabilisation in the relationship is welcome, and that has been driven in particular by China ceasing the type of wolf warrior tactics that it had deployed over recent years against Australia and against so many other countries around the world and that cessation is welcome. But we also have to be clear eyed. It hasn’t changed China’s broader strategic objectives, and it hasn’t changed a number of the concerns that we should have with China. Mr. Albanese needs to go to China and demonstrate strength. He needs to be forthright about Australia’s numerous concerns bilaterally, regionally and globally in relation to how Chinese government is engaging with the world and he needs to seek to ensure that China, in understanding those concerns, also is engaging with us and other partners in the future in ways that can try to work through and address them. Bilaterally, we continue to have the concerns about China’s weaponisation of trade, economic coercion and attempts of Australia and the punishment they have applied against us, all of which we have to condemn in the strongest possible terms and expect to cease now forthwith, not in five months time, not in other ways. Our wine industry shouldn’t have to wait. Our live seafood exporters shouldn’t have to wait. Our meat industry shouldn’t have to wait. All of those sectors should be demanding that China cease the sanctions, cease the weaponization of trade against us.

Dr. Yang Hengjun deserves fair treatment and should not be arbitrarily and indefinitely detained. We should expect to see his release and fair treatment of him, and that should be high on the agenda. But also in terms of regional issues, Australia needs to speak very forthrightly about our concerns over tensions in the South China Sea. Over China, ignoring UN Convention on Law of the Sea rules and acting in ways, and the fact that China’s increased military tempo and activity around the Taiwan Strait increase the risks of miscalculation and therefore of potential military conflict. There are a number of other factors where we just have to be very clear and forthright about these issues.

Laura Jayes: Clear and forthright is correct, but there’s a very fine line here, isn’t there, Senator, because we have seen these trade sanctions that are now starting to come off. They were imposed because the previous government was all those things – forthright. So, some caution here in saying that?

Simon Birmingham: Well, LJ, they were imposed during this period of wolf warrior diplomacy that China deployed across the world. We weren’t the only country subject to those types of actions. We saw other places such as Lithuania subjected to them. And in fact, only in the last couple of weeks, the European Union passed new laws in how they would handle and respond to economic coercion in the future. The type of cooperation they would apply across their different member states. They did so because China had acted targeting one of their member states previously. So, we do have to keep a global perspective here that Australia was not the only country targeted. But yes, we should seek to ensure we engage in ways that maintain as open a dialogue as possible. China’s refusal to have ministerial level dialogue with Australia was one of the most counterproductive things that they did, and, of course, made it even harder to work through some of these areas of difference. But it is important for the long term, not just our trading relationship, that we do demonstrate that strength and forthrightness with China, because it is about the peace and stability of the region in which we live and trade into the future.

Laura Jayes: One final question. There is now some talk among the White House and the United States, where it seems that there are growing calls, more forthright calls for a temporary ceasefire. What is your view on that?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we all want to see humanitarian aid access Gaza and we want to ensure that there is movement of international citizens out of Gaza, that there is support for indeed injured or others to move. But it is important when talking about a pause or a ceasefire to understand that this also has to come with definition and conditionality. This is about ensuring that we don’t see a circumstance where Hamas is able to use a situation to rearm or to reorganise, and to therefore regroup in their attacks and assaults against Israel. For the long term it’s critical that Israel is successful in disarming Hamas. Otherwise, we will just see repeat after repeat of the October 7th type tragedy, and we will see yet more loss of innocent life over that long term. And of course, it continued repeat of the cycles of tragic loss of innocent lives, both Israeli and Palestinian.

Laura Jayes: Indeed. Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time as always.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ. My pleasure.