Topics:  Chinese Premier visit to Australia; G7 nations support for Ukraine;

09:35AM AEST
14 June 2024


Laura Jayes:  Australia is preparing for an historic visit from the Chinese Premier this weekend. It’ll be the first time a Chinese premier has been here in seven years, so what can we expect? Joining me live is Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham. Simon, thanks so much for your time. Looks like we are well and truly out of the deep freeze. There’s still a little bit of frostiness around the edges, I might say, but the premier being here tomorrow and over the weekend is certainly a big step forward. But what does Australia need to get out of this visit? What does a successful visit look like over the weekend, do you think?


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, LJ. Well, it is a welcome visit by Premier Li and it is far better, as I’ve said many occasions, for China to engage in dialogue than to pursue stand off as they did when they refused to have dialogue with Australian ministers and the fact that they are no longer pursuing the same degree of public wolf warrior diplomacy is a welcome step, and this visit is welcome. But it doesn’t change the broader strategic context that we face. And so this visit will need to be one where the Albanese Government is open it up front about the global concerns we have in terms of China not using its role to put pressure on Russia and Iran and those who are responsible for such destruction in the globe at present and such tragic loss of life. China, in fact undertakes military exercises with those countries and offers support rather than reining them in. So, we need to be clear about that. Regional concerns, particularly the way China’s own military engages in the region and the dangerous situation they put Australian troops in, as well as those of the Philippines, as well as other circumstances where the great risk of miscalculation. And of course, then there are direct bilateral issues. Still some residual trade matters, important consular cases like Doctor Yang, matters affecting Australian residents who are targeted by Hong Kong authorities, things that are of very serious concern and need to be thoroughly addressed too.


Laura Jayes: Would you expect this government to raise those concerns about Russia and Taiwan and influence in the Pacific closer to home? Would you accept Penny Wong or Anthony Albanese raising those issues directly with the Premier, but perhaps not telling us so publicly? Is that acceptable?


Simon Birmingham: We certainly we should expect our government, the Australian government, to raise those type of concerns. The point of having face to face dialogue is to confront difficult issues, and it was a real missed opportunity and exposed Anthony Albanese, rightly, to much criticism when he met with President Xi Jinping in the margins of the APEC summit last year and did not take the opportunity to raise the incident involving Australian Navy divers from the HMAS Toowoomba being endangered by the Chinese military and their activities. So, we should be clear that these issues are raised. We should be honest about the fact that they are raised. Of course, this is not an environment where public lecturing is to be expected or undertaken. We want to make sure and everybody should wish it to be a positive visit. But part of that visit and the purpose of that visit is to also be up front about remaining bilateral concerns and how we maximise the benefits of the relationship, but also playing our role as a global citizen in raising those regional and global concerns, and the very serious consequences of the way China behaves militarily in our region and is empowering the behaviour of others in the world, and the death and destruction that those others are causing.


Laura Jayes: Interesting to see overnight, the G7 nations and leaders have met. They’ve agreed to loan the Ukraine $50 billion, and this is of Russian money. But I thought it was notable as well that of the men gathered there Simon Birmingham, most of them are lame duck leaders. They are facing defeat in elections pretty soon. What does that do to the agreement and the world order among G7 nations that we’re seeing at the moment, do you think?


Simon Birmingham: Well LJ, I’m not going to predict all of the different electoral outcomes of those not to come. There are some that may look clearer than others, but there are other leaders there who still have years and years ahead. What is important out of that commitment is that it is providing multiple years of support for Ukraine. This is where Australia needs to get to, to end the kind of piecemeal will make a little announcement here and a little announcement there, just because there’s a conference or a summit coming up and actually have a strategy as to how we are supporting Ukraine. The G7 leaders have shown that it can be done in terms of leveraging Russian assets, and there’s around $100 million of Russian assets known to be in Australia. And so making sure that we leverage those, support this initiative and find a pathway to give Ukraine continuous support over the next couple of years so that they can plan successfully to defeat the illegal invasion of Russia, the immoral invasion of Russia and the invasion of Russia isn’t just a threat to Ukraine, but it about destroying confidence in the very respect for rules and sovereignty that we’ve all relied upon since World War II.


Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, always good to talk to you from a beautiful setting this morning there in Adelaide, I might say, but I know it well enough to know it would be very chilly, so we’ll let you get inside. We’ll see you soon.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ. My pleasure.