TopicsForeign Minister visit to China; Australia-China relations; Kevin Rudd appointment to US Ambassador;

07:45AM AEDT
21 December 2022

Danica De Giorgio: Foreign Minister Penny Wong has touched down in Beijing preparing for crucial meetings with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. Joining me now live is the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. Thank you for joining us. What should be the priority for Penny Wong in her meeting?

Simon Birmingham: Good morning. It’s good to be with you. Well, it’s crucial that Penny Wong seeks to advance and secures advancement in relation to the release of detained Australians Cheng Lei and Dr. Yang Hengjun. It’s equally crucial that she secures progress in terms of removal of the unwarranted trade sanctions against Australia, particularly our wine and barley industries, but also the many other industry sectors hit by the indirect trade sanctions that China has been applying. And it’s also important that she continues to raise in advance issues of regional security, cyber security and human rights in her discussions with China.

Danica De Giorgio: So, what in your view would be the trigger then for normal relations with China? What will give Australia an indication that Beijing is genuinely wanting to come to the table again?

Simon Birmingham: Well, firstly, we need to continue to recognise that we face challenging strategic circumstances and that those challenges have not gone away and the government has done the right thing by maintaining effectively all of the security policy settings put in place by the previous Coalition government. The strengthening of our foreign interference laws, the strengthening of our national security laws, the strengthening indeed of foreign investment and critical infrastructure laws. They are all key steps that we took and they created some tensions in the relationship, but they were done in the national interest and there can be no back-pedalling on those. And I acknowledge the government has maintained all of those settings in place. Critically, we have seen a slight change globally in tone from China. It seems that they’ve stepped back from the Wolf Warrior diplomacy, the very aggressive style they were deploying not just against Australia but against many nations and so engagement from them is welcome. The fact that they have ceased the counterproductive ban that they put in place on ministerial dialogue is welcome. But really to see a true stabilisation of the relationship would mean that we see the unwarranted, unfair trade sanctions lifted and unfairly detained Australians released.

Danica De Giorgio: Well, overnight Beijing’s customs department officially encouraged the buying of Australian lobsters, health products, UGG boots and pearls. What can we take from that?

Simon Birmingham: Look, any such steps are encouraging, but our live seafood industry will want to know that they’re going to be able to get their product into market without the very high risks and penalties they’ve faced of it being stopped at the ports on dubious grounds and millions of dollars of losses incurred as a result of that interception of products that have limited shelf life and therefore are prone and susceptible to such interference. So, there are real concerns there that need clarity from Beijing in terms of the fact that there won’t be those sorts of tactics deployed against live seafood or any other sector. And of course, critically, then the decisions they’ve openly taken to put massive tariffs on industry sectors such as barley and wine. They need to be reversed. And obviously for the families of Dr. Yang and of Cheng Lei, they want to see their loved ones get to come home.

Danica De Giorgio: Why now, do you think there’s been years of frozen relationship? Why do you think Beijing is at least willing now to have a chat?

Simon Birmingham: As I said we’ve seen globally a bit of a change in tone. The Wolf Warrior diplomacy seems to have eased off in terms of the approach China’s taking, not just in Australia but around many nations. We saw the positive step in terms of President Xi Jinping, not just having the brief meeting with Anthony Albanese during the G20, but the three hour discussions he had face to face with Joe Biden for the first time in President Biden’s administration. So, they are very welcome steps in terms of China showing a willingness to have dialogue, showing a willingness to engage. But the pressure points, not just those in our bilateral relationship, we’ve focused on around trade and detained Australians, but the pressure points in regional security and global security and cyber security in foreign interference. Those issues remain and they remain real areas of concern that the world has to work clearly but very firmly with China on.

Danica De Giorgio: Okay. Kevin Rudd has been appointed Australia’s US ambassador. What’s your reaction to this appointment?

Simon Birmingham: Well, this is Anthony Albanese’s personal pick and appointment. So, the US post is our most important amongst the diplomatic posts around the world. It’s critical that the person occupying that post delivers in Australia’s national interest, handles the sensitive issues that go through Washington with deft diplomacy and skill and with great care and with diligence. Anthony Albanese is putting his faith in Kevin Rudd to do that. We of course want to see international success for Australia and need to see our relationship with the United States succeed and that particularly requires the full delivery and implementation of what is envisaged under the AUKUS agreement, which will require Kevin Rudd to give it his 110% support and attention.

Danica De Giorgio: Simon Birmingham, we’ll leave it there. Thank you for joining us.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you. My pleasure.