Australia’s foreign policy under Scott Morrison is unlikely to offer relief for Beijing.
The resignation of Malcolm Turnbull, who championed a crackdown on Chinese government foreign interference, and Morrison’s economic background have led to some talk as to whether there could be a change in policy direction more favourable to the superpower.
But there are signs the “China reset” is off. Morrison’s move to ban Huawei from the 5G communications system has led to an inevitable outpouring of anger from the Chinese government, furious that the move threatens international success of its tech sector.
This week five eyes ministers including UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid, and US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen met on the Gold Coast Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, also in attendance, said he will consult Australian officials about whether his country should follow Morrison’s Huawei ban while in Queensland.
Further, foreign Minister Marise Payne in her first television interview earlier this week said international rule-breaking by Russia, China and North Korea presented the greatest challenge to Australia.
“Presented together, they are a case for constant vigilance by Australia, who is very committed to its engagement both in this region and more broadly,’’ Payne told Sky News.
As treasurer, Morrison blocked major Chinese investment bids in agriculture and critical infrastructure.
As defence minister, Payne was quick out of the blocks to endorse a new US defence strategy that named China and Russia as greater threats to America’s security than Islamic extremists.
But insiders say Australian diplomatic tensions are inevitable, no matter the leader.
Julie Bishop’s former national security adviser John Lee said the former Foreign minister was in charge as China become more assertive.
“Failure to defend or promote principles such as rule of law would have been interpreted by China as Australian acquiescence,” he told The Australian.
“That Bishop positioned Australia as a leading defender of these principles created some diplomatic tensions with China. This is inevitable.”
He said there would be significant continuity with Payne in respect to the substance of how the former foreign minister handled the relationship with China.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials have breathed a sigh of relief with the appointment of Payne, who despite her media aversion is respected for her focus on policy.
One former senior official said the department saw Christopher Pyne as more of an unknown.