Australia Defence and Foreign Ministers Linda Reynolds and Marise Payne will leave for Washington on Sunday to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper for critical talks on Australia’s relationship with China, according to 9News on Saturday.
This is the first overseas visit by Morrison Government ministers since Australia shut its international borders in March, although the ministers may also require 14 days’ self- quarantine after the visit.
“It comes at a time when Australia’s relationship with China is very tense and the US and China are at the point of shutting down consulates in each other’s countries,” Nine’s political reporter Kerrie Yaxley said, “The US will be seeking for Australia’s stronger support. This is complicated for Australia to navigate finding a balance between our largest ally and trading partner.”
In an argument by Foreign Policy, “Australia is having a strategic revolution, and it’s all about China,” the Morrison government has taken its side since it requested an independent inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak.
At the beginning of July, Scott Morrison declared that “our region is in the midst of the most consequential strategic realignment since the Second World War.” He wrote that in the introduction to his government’s “Defence Strategic Update” and “Force Structure Plan,” which many are hailing as a fundamental shift in Australia’s strategic approach.
In its official reports, Australia has declared “there is no legal basis” to China’s territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea, marking an escalation of recent tensions with Beijing and bringing Canberra further in line with Washington.
The declaration, made in a submission to the United Nations on Thursday, comes after the United States hardened its position earlier this month, accusing Beijing of a “completely unlawful … campaign of bullying” to control the sea.
Last week, Australian warships have encountered the Chinese navy in the South China Sea during a voyage that saw them sail close to contested islands claimed by Beijing.
“Australia is committed to a secure, open, prosperous and resilient Indo-Pacific region. We routinely work with regional partners to address shared security challenges,” an Australia Defence spokesperson said.
The contest between the US and Communist China will soon focus on disputes in the South China Sea. And in the Indo-Pacific area, Australia is the US’s most important ally.
A Chinese diplomat accused of using fake identification documents in the United States was until last year the second-most-senior figure inside China’s embassy in Canberra, where he met regularly with Australian politicians, ABC reports.
Cai Wei, the Chinese Consul-General in the city of Houston, is refusing orders by the Trump administration to close the diplomatic compound which is suspected of running sophisticated espionage activities.
Between 2014 and 2019, the Chinese diplomat served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Chinese Embassy in Australia and had previously worked in other posts including the five-eyes intelligence partner country Canada.
In 2018, the ABC revealed Cai Wei used a dinner gathering with Labor MPs in Canberra to strongly deny the Chinese Communist Party was trying to control foreign students studying in Australia.
On Friday, when the Chinese Consulate General in Houston was forced to close by the Trump administration, there were no reports of the whereabouts of Cai Wei.
Australia has expressed alarm over Chinese hackers compromising networks across the world for commercial and personal gain, after a US Justice Department indictment alleged a decade-long spree targeting an Australian defence contractor, the personal data of Hong Kong protesters and COVID-19 vaccine researchers, according to Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday.
The joint-statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Signals Directorate on Wednesday follows rising animosity between China and Australia’s Five Eyes partners, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand over the coronavirus crisis, Hong Kong and a military build-up in the South China Sea.
“Of particular concern, these individuals also reportedly targeted COVID-19 research as well as political dissidents, religious minorities and human rights advocates,” the Australian government said. “Australia reiterates our call to all countries to refrain from behaviour which violates their international commitments.”
On his trip to Europe last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on the free world to unite against China’s “tyranny”. Pompeo has urged nations across the world to work together to ensure China “behaves” according to international regulations.
In his talks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Pompeo praised Britain for getting tough on China. Pompeo said any new coalition would need to perform better than the current multilateral institutions such as the United Nations Security Council where China has an automatic veto.
In a news report by the News Corps Australia, Pompeo said the US had boosted funding to NATO and sent it some of its best China analysts to help Europe better understand the Chinese military and its tactics. He listed the G7 and G20 among the many tools “out there” to try to uphold the international rules-based order.
According to the report, Australia is a member of the G20 but not the G7; it last sat on the UN Security Council in 2014 and is bidding again for a position in 2029, which is the earliest opportunity because only one country from the Asia-Pacific region is eligible to contest each term.
But Australia’s pushback against Chinese interference, including its world-leading ban on Huawei from critical telecoms networks, has earned it a reputation abroad as a pioneer in striking a security posture alongside its economic relationship with the world’s second-largest economy. China is Australia’s largest two-way trading partner.
“We just have to decide if any of those [multilateral institutions] are fit for purpose … I also think that they’re not shaped right for this current confrontation,” Pompeo is said to have told MPs.
Pompeo said the US was actively thinking about how to resolve the issue but had not reached an answer. Greater representation was needed from south-east Asia, he said.
“We’re going to need the 1 billion-plus people in India, we’re going to need the Australians – it’s going to take all of these democracies together.”
Australia is China’s biggest trading partner, but there’s been criticism in the country on too much economic reliance on China.
Earlier this month, Malcolm Turnbull has rebuked Australian business chiefs and academics for criticising the Australian government over the state of the relationship with Beijing, saying such reactions would only “encourage more bullying from China”.
The former prime minister said the response of some parts of the business community to China’s use of trade threats to influence policy was “pretty shameful” and said countries must “not be intimidated by confected outrage” from Beijing.
According to the Guardian on Saturday, Australian farmers have called for separation between foreign relations and trade ties with China amid the escalation of tensions.
Agricultural business leaders concerned about the impact rising tensions with China will have on exports are hoping to explore a “separation of powers” between Australia’s foreign relations and trade ties with China.
By Cloudy Seagail