A Chinese newspaper has described aspiring prime minister Peter Dutton as a “low version of Trump” as the leadership contest and a decision to effectively block Chinese telecommunications groups from bidding for 5G mobile phone networks deliver a fresh blow to Sino-Australia relations.
The hawkish Global Times newspaper posted an editorial on social media on Thursday referencing Mr Dutton’s controversial policies on asylum seekers, his decision to boycott a 2008 national apology to the Stolen Generations and his comments about African crime gangs in Melbourne.
“This Dutton can be a called a low version of [US President Donald] Trump,” the tabloid newspaper, often critical of the Australia government, said.
“We can imagine the consequences he will bring to Australia if he is in charge of the country. This is the most embarrassing situation in Australian politics.”
The House of Representatives was shut down on Thursday after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull lost the support of his party and Treasurer Scott Morrison said he would stand against Mr Dutton to contest the leadership.
The move is another big setback for Australia’s relationship with its biggest trading partner. After months of tensions, Mr Turnbull offered Beijing an olive branch when he attempted to reset the relationship in a speech two weeks ago.
China welcomed the prime minister’s speech, which recognised Beijing’s desire to assert itself in the region, and lauded the “vital” contribution to regional stability that would come from the 125,000 Chinese students in Australia.
Mr Morrison, who is the acting Home Affairs Minister, on Thursday effectively banned Chinese telecommunications giants Huawei and ZTE from bidding for lucrative 5G mobile phone network contracts due to security concerns. The move will further anger China.
Diplomats say Chinese officials are bemused by Australia’s string of leadership changes since 2007, and the political brinkmanship. Latest events in Canberra further undermine Canberra’s credibility in a one-party state where its rulers are rarely challenged.
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, who had been due to lead a delegation of Australian business leaders to Shanghai in November and is the only senior minister to visit the country this year, on Thursday resigned from the Turnbull ministry.
The government said on Thursday the national security risks to 5G networks were greater than under the current technology.
“Vendors . . . subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflict with Australian law, may risk failure by the carrier to adequately protect a 5G network from unauthorised access or interference,” acting Home Affairs Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement on Thursday morning.
While it did not specially mention China, the reference to “extrajudicial directions” is clearly aimed at the Chinese bidders.
Huawei said the outcome was “extremely disappointing”.
The Australian Financial Review revealed in April that anger over the Turnbull government’s rhetoric on China had prompted Beijing to refuse visas to ministers, while a major annual showcase of Australian trade and business in China was on the verge of being cancelled.
The government has not denied that China had delayed issuing visas to some ministers. However, Mr Turnbull’s speech this month and efforts by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Mr Ciobo to reset the relationship were seen as positive signs the relationship was shifting back in the right direction.
There has been little coverage in China of the political turmoil in Canberra, with the country’s media focused on trade tension with the United States.
Labor, which has also struggled with its relationship with China in the past, has been stepping up criticism of the government’s management of ties with Beijing and hopes to resolve tensions in the bilateral relationship if it wins power at the next election.
By Michael Smith