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This article was published by The Global Times on 14 July 2022

Mis-information, false information, prejudice and the dirty politics of the retention of power caused a thick and low hanging fog through which Australia is now trying to navigate a path to China.

The Australian Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, has demonstrated skill in charting a course to China. She has displayed diplomatic skill.

Wang Yi called on Australia to be a partner rather than an opponent, seek common ground, reserve differences, build public opinion and not targeting nor being controlled by a third party (clearly a reference to criticism of China and the influence of the United States over Australian foreign and defence policy). The Australian government needs to push back against the biased and at times hysterical Murdoch Press.

The two demonstrated how diplomacy should be conducted – with respect and consideration. The nature of their dialogue and the cordial atmosphere stands in marked contrast to the crude, rude and gauche behaviour of the recently departed and unlamented former Prime Minister Mr Morrison toward China and that of the current leader of the Opposition, Mr. Dutton. Their rudeness, ill-informed remarks and aggression toward China are an embarrassment. Dutton is very close to the US Republican Party and right wing think tanks. He is an unoriginal thinker and remains bellicose in his public statements relating to China.

The new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, has been focused on domestic politics for much of his political life. He has inherited and chosen to retain public servants shaped and politicised by twenty years of LNP governments, including Andrew Shearer, head of the Office of National Intelligence. Shearer was the national security adviser to LNP Prime Ministers, Howard and Abbott and was Morrison’s influential adviser on China. He is a foreign policy hawk. He is a key adviser to Anthony Albanese. He supports the Quad and he supports and was a likely promotor of AUKUS. He is seen as extremely influential in policy debates relating to China and the US.

Compared to Wong, Albanese and Richard Marles, the defence minister, appear to be reading off different briefing notes. Albanese has made clumsy and wooden remarks about the dangers of China, despite opportunities to be more nuanced and positive and Marles has been positively destructive. He gives every appearance of just not getting it. He is an embarrassment. A puppet on a very short US string. He warned of a “military build-up at a rate unseen since WWII” in Washington on 11 July in Washington. Who is briefing him?

Marles has yet to assert his leadership of the Defence and Security bureaucracy. He needs to make clear the nonsense of carping about the viability of our trade routes while undermining Australia’s trade relationship with China. He needs to undertake a review of the ‘policy’, pushed by the US, of the ‘right of innocent passage’ in the South China Sea.   

 There are no policy differences relating to China within the Australian cabinet and government, however the Shearer approach to dealing with China is different to what is evolving from within the department of Foreign Affairs, with Wong as Minister. If differences emerge, they will need to be reconciled.

ASPI continues to play a less than constructive role in the reset of relations with the former director, Peter Jennings, attempting to rattle the sabre over arms sales, including nuclear submarines. ASPI is a strong supporter of AUKUS. How influential ASPI is with the new government remains to be seen.

Also influential with the last government was Dr Michael Fullilove, of the Lowy Institute and Professor Rory Medcalf of the National Security College, ANU, and also previously with the Lowy Institute, neither are friends of China.

Australian public support for the alliance with the US remains strong, how much support there is for AUKUS is untested. Details relating to the understanding have not been released. They remain secret. There has been some media speculation but no details have been made public. Before the election the Labor Party was given 24 hours to agree or reject the ‘proposal’. In order not to be wedged they agreed. AUKUS and all matters associated with it need to be debated in the Australian parliament. Secrecy in one state leads to secrecy in another.

Clearly what needs to occur now is a continuance of calm and directed diplomacy. Ms. Wong has said the meeting with Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, is a first step in stabilising the relationship. That is an important acknowledgement and should be a precursor toward formal high level discussions.

In addition to Australia adjusting it’s focus on China, it must weigh carefully words and undertakings emanating from both China and the United States, particularly in relation to Taiwan and the South China Sea. It is in Australia’s interest to see considered responses from both.

Normal trade, tourism, study and research should resume as soon as possible between China and Australia.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Australian Diplomat and political commentator.