Op-Ed: Chinese Foreign Minister visit was a wake-up call

This week’s provocative visit from Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was a wake up call for those who have spun us a web of fiction about the supposedly “stabilised” relationship with China.

Remember, we’ve been told repeatedly by the Albanese Government that their invitations to meet with President Xi and senior Chinese officials was a result of their “mature” approach to diplomacy. What then to make of the invitation for pro-CCP propagandist Paul Keating to take a personal meeting with China’s Foreign Minister?

Keating’s invitation to meet with Wang Yi came after his latest round of bagging Australia’s foreign policy. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the Albanese Government, which itself had secured meetings after repeatedly publicly blaming the former Australian Government for the Chinese Government’s economic coercion and trade sanctions.

The CCP is sending a clear and unambiguous message that it regards such meetings not as normal diplomatic exchanges but as an incentive and reward for hearing what it wants to hear. Worse, they are doing so in a deliberately public and provocative manner to send a message to the rest of the world that the Chinese Government will do as it wishes, and it is for Australia and other countries to observe diplomatic niceties and say “thank you very much” for the privilege of engagement.

Remember back in November last year, when Albanese failed to raise the Chinese Navy’s sonar pulse attack on Australian Navy personnel in a meeting with Xi Jinping? The Government’s spin was that raising such an incident wasn’t the ‘done thing’ at such a meeting. Contrast that to the Chinese Foreign Minister coming to Australia and holding a private meeting with Keating in front of Chinese state media with Australian media locked out. Everyone knows that there’s no way an Australian Foreign Minister could act in this way in China – and that’s exactly the point the Chinese Government wanted to make.

To make matters worse, we had senior Ministers in the Albanese Cabinet running a defence of Keating’s meeting and the Chinese Government’s provocation. Tanya Plibersek told media that the meeting was “perfectly natural” and Chris Bowen said of the propaganda opportunity “it’s singularly unsurprising that they would meet with a former prime minister”. Not as unsurprising as Keating emerging from the meeting with a statement running the Chinese Government’s lines or Chinese state media using Keating’s comments for propaganda purposes.

The mistake made by the Albanese Government is not meeting with Chinese Government officials, but to have boasted relentlessly about securing those meetings, only to now have the Chinese Government grant the same privilege to a willing propagandist like Keating. Beijing takes every opportunity to blame the former Australian Government for their decision to stop diplomatic contact, and worryingly they’ve been backed up by the Albanese Government’s willingness to make the same argument domestically. Now, the Chinese state will ensure Paul Keating is the salesman for that argument in China and abroad.

Just a few years ago, Australia was widely recognised around the world as being a leader in standing up to Chinese coercion. Our economy not only withstood China’s trade embargoes but continued to grow and flourish. Fast forward a few years and now we are expected to act as if selling red wine to China is at the top of foreign policy priorities – which of course was the outcome the CCP was looking for in enacting these embargoes in the first place.

It’s sensible for us to zoom out for a reality check on China’s ongoing behaviour around the world rather than give Australians a myopic and misleading view dressed up as “stabilisation”. While we were treated to the umpteenth round of celebratory media drops that the Chinese Government are inching towards lifting tariffs on Australian wine in the future (five months after the Albanese Government dropped a World Trade Organisation dispute to allow the Chinese Government not to lose the case), the Philippines were once again dealing with aggression from Chinese vessels in their waters; and China and Russia were striking a deal with the Houthi terrorists to exempt their vessels from Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

Those are the kind of behaviours that the Chinese Government and the likes of Keating want Australia to ignore and not to speak about. They are on a mission to show the world that they do not need to conform to comply with international norms of behaviour, and that they expect smaller nations to stay quiet about it.

The Australian Government – whether Liberal or Labor – has an obligation to Australians to be honest and transparent about the coercion, the foreign interference, the threats and the objectives of the Chinese Government which is driving all of this. There’s way too much at stake to allow Australians to be kept in the dark.

*This opinion piece appeared on the Spectator Australia website on 25 March 2024.