Wed, May 02, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Australia’s PRC ties being ‘bungled’

The Guardian

The security establishment has sidelined the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) and Trade on the nations’ relationship with China and has driven a more hawkish line, creating turmoil, a former Australian ambassador to China said.

Geoff Raby contends in a post on the Pearls and Irritations blog that a deteriorating relationship between Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop is part of the reason the Canberra-Beijing relationship is off the rails.

Raby, a former diplomat and deputy secretary in the foreign affairs department, now a China-based businessman, says part of the problem is that Bishop is “not trusted by the prime minister.”

“A deputy who has survived three leaders does bear watching,” Raby said.

As well as political intrigues, Raby said the government’s China policy is a “mess” in part because the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has politicized itself by running a “China-threat campaign.”

The “security establishment” — the Australian Department of Defence, the office of national assessments, ASIO, the international spy agency ASIS, the international division of the prime minister’s department and some publicly funded think tanks — has responded to China’s rise, and its successful challenge of US pre-eminence, by sidelining the foreign affairs department, he said.

Raby claims that Australia’s security establishment “some time ago concluded that the China relationship was too important to trust to DFAT” and he says the foreign minister’s role in managing the bilateral relationship has become “inconsequential.”

Bishop tried to “play herself back into the Canberra China game” by giving a “bizarre speech, written by her office, in Singapore last year in which she declared China to be unfit for regional leadership because it was not democratic,” he said.

The former ambassador said the relationship is being bungled because there is “an ideologically preconditioned policymaking establishment in Canberra which is quixotically hoping for the return of the old, US-led order” — a posture that is damaging to Australia’s interests.

He claimed that ASIO is briefing “selected media against certain individuals who it suspects — rightly or wrongly — of being Chinese agents of influence” and suggested that the domestic spy agency “would appear to be the most likely source of the media briefing about former senator [Sam] Dastyari’s cautioning of businessman Huang [Xiangmo (黃向墨)] that his telephone was being tapped.”

Turnbull conceded last month that diplomatic tension between Australia and China had ramped up in response to the government’s proposed foreign interference crackdown.

The Chinese ambassador to Australia warned in a rare public interview last month that the bilateral relationship had been marred by “systematic, irresponsible and negative remarks” about China, and signaled that trading ties could be damaged.

Late last month, Australian academic Clive Hamilton gave evidence before a US congressional committee that Beijing was waging a “campaign of psychological warfare” against Australia, as the US’ most significant ally in the region, undermining democracy and cowing free speech.

Hamilton is the author of Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia, a book which was dumped by publishers Allen & Unwin last year over fears of legal action by Beijing, before being published by Hardie Grant.

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