Grattan on Friday: China plays reverse ‘poke the bear’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In the moment, Scott Morrison’s angry denunciation of the offensive Chinese tweet about alleged Australian war crimes seemed a reasonable response.

In retrospect, it was probably ill-judged. This is so even though the response had bipartisan support.

The Chinese immediately knew they’d touched a raw nerve, and kept pressing it, through their hyperbolic mouthpiece The Global Times, and their embassy in Canberra.

They grabbed an opportunity to get their own back at a country inclined to focus on their bad human rights record.

In trying to show strength, the Australian government had exposed its sensitivity.

Morrison probably realised this. Twenty-four hours after calling his “virtual” news conference (he was still in quarantine at The Lodge following his Japanese trip) he told the coalition party room (remotely) that the government’s response to the tweet did not need amplification.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Asia-Pacific expert Bates Gill on China’s endgame


On Thursday he wouldn’t even be drawn about the Chinese social media platform WeChat taking down a message of reassurance to the Australian Chinese community he had posted.

The digitally-contrived image of a soldier with a knife to a child’s throat tweeted by China’s foreign affairs spokesman was the equivalent of a highly objectionable cartoon. With hindsight, Morrison might have been better to send out a minister to respond to the tweet, or simply to dismiss it with a brief condemnatory line and minimum elaboration.

The tweet was part of the cat-and-mouse game the Chinese are playing with Australia. This might hurt their international image – it certainly should. But the price for Australia is much higher. Strikes at Australian exports are costly and disruptive for businesses and industries at the worst possible time, in the year of COVID.

More generally, it is hard to avoid the conclusion China is treating the Australian government with contempt. How else can we read it when Australian ministers haven’t been able to get their phone calls returned?

Within Australia there is a range of views on how to cope with this situation.

Some in business have urged the government to tone everything down, to be much more accommodating to China. On the other hand, some on the Coalition backbench and among the commentariat believe China should be given no quarter.

In response to what has become a more assertive and interfering Chinese regime, the government’s stance can be characterised as hawkish in action while reaching out rhetorically.

Even as he raged about the tweet on Monday, Morrison said he hoped “this rather awful event” might lead to a “reset” where dialogue could be restarted. At his Thursday news conference his message was the government’s desire for “constructive and open and regular dialogue at leader and ministerial level to address the tensions that are clearly there in the relationship”.

But also on Thursday parliament was considering legislation for a new national security test for foreign investment in a “sensitive national security business”.

It’s not admitted directly but this is aimed squarely at Chinese investment. It’s justified – but the Chinese judge the Australian government by its actions, not its words.

Legislation is also before parliament to allow the federal government to quash agreements state or local governments or universities have or propose with foreign governments. This has Victoria’s belt and road deal with China in its sights.

Critics see the government’s early call for an inquiry into the origins and handling of COVID-19 as an ill-judged provocation of China, and even date the deterioration in the relationship from then.

Undoubtedly China was angered. But its discontent goes much further back and is much broader, as its recently-circulated list of 14 grievances makes clear.

And the COVID call was reasonable enough, even if it invited angst. The pandemic has been a stop-the-world sort of event and how it all happened is significant for the future.




Read more:
What’s behind China’s bullying of Australia? It sees a soft target — and an essential one


The unpalatable truth is that Australia has limited agency in how relations with China go from here.

The government won’t (and shouldn’t) make U-turns on key policies, such as Malcolm Turnbull’s law against foreign interference.

China is not likely to be swayed by rhetoric. And if one point of its concern is that Australia’s voice on certain issues (such as its warnings on Huawei) influences other countries, China will have even less reason to reduce its pressure.

For however long it wants to get in Australia’s face, China will play havoc with some of our exports. Australia takes comfort from the fact that its biggest export there – iron ore – is protected by China’s dependence on this supply and the difficulties of finding alternative sources. But that situation can’t be taken for granted indefinitely.

How the relationship evolves from here will be affected by the China-United States dynamic, as the Biden administration reshapes America’s policies. But it’s expected the Biden reset will be a matter of degree.

Whatever faults there have been on the Australian side, the rough-edged nature of the bilateral relationship is just one manifestation of China’s muscling up in the world, and particularly the region.

In 2014 Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed the federal parliament.

This was Xi’s fifth visit to Australia and included a trip to Tasmania which, he noted, meant he would have been to all states and territories. He was lyrical about the country’s “strange-looking kangaroos”, “cute koala bear”, “flocks of white sheep” and “ingenious Sydney Opera House”.

He was also very positive about the bilateral relationship (although China watchers might have read cautionary signs in his wider comments).




Read more:
China hits out again – then tells Australia to fix the relationship


“China has always viewed Australia as an important partner,” he said.

“During my visit, the two sides have decided to elevate our bilateral relations into a comprehensive strategic partnership and announced the substantial completion of Free Trade Agreement negotiations. These two important outcomes will further boost China-Australia relations.

“Our relationship has reached a new and higher starting point, and we should be more visionary, broad minded and set more ambitious goals. Our two countries should increase dialogue and exchanges and deepen political trust, expand result-oriented cooperation, and work together to sustain peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.”

For Australia, this key relationship hasn’t become any less important in the relatively few years since Xi’s fifth and presumably last visit – indeed it’s more important. But managing it has become something of a political nightmare.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What’s behind China’s bullying of Australia? It sees a soft target — and an essential one



Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Chongyi Feng, University of Technology Sydney

As the diplomatic fallout continues over the digitally altered war crimes tweet sent by China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, earlier this week, it’s important to note this inflammatory and offensive post is not an isolated case.

Zhao and other Chinese officials and diplomats have made many outrageous attacks on Australia and the US in recent years. Zhao himself was probably best known before this week’s tweet for his official promotion of a conspiracy theory that the US military was responsible for bringing the coronavirus to China.

Hu Xijin, the editor in chief of the Global Times, an official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, is another vocal critic of Australia.

Four years ago, the newspaper published a scathing editorial directed at Australia after Canberra said China must abide by an international tribunal ruling on the South China Sea. It called Australia a “paper cat” with an “inglorious” history, and said, “If Australia steps into the South China Sea waters, it will be an ideal target for China to warn and strike.”

Why nationalism is such a powerful force in China

These unrestrained attacks and repeated humiliations of Australia look bizarre, but they are engineered to suit a couple of specific purposes for the totalitarian regime in China: one domestic, the other global.

Domestically, this more aggressive posturing toward the world, known as “wolf warrior diplomacy”, is a key function of President Xi Jinping’s dictatorship, which is based almost exclusively on Chinese nationalism cultivated by the Communist Party.

Just like former leader Mao Zedong, Xi has consolidated his power, in part, due to the cult of personality that has developed around his rule. Xi’s image is everywhere in China and he’s even promoted his own ideology called “Xi Jinping Thought” in a similar vein to “Mao Zedong Thought” (and his famous Little Red Book).

Mao’s power was built on the twin ideologies of communism and Chinese nationalism. Today, however, communism is a waning force in China.

And though Xi and his followers still use the ideals of Marxism and “Xi Jinping Thought” for political purposes — such as purging rivals and dissidents — they rely heavily on Chinese nationalism to maintain the legitimacy of their rule in the eyes of the public.

Nationalism is a powerful force in today’s China. It’s seen in everything from Xi’s persistent calls for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” to Beijing’s increasingly strident anti-American and anti-foreign sentiments.

Xi Jinping's image is ever-present in today's China.
Xi Jinping’s image is ever-present in today’s China.
ALEX PLAVEVSKI/EPA

Xi rose to the top with a mediocre career, but has been dressed up magically as a strongman with great talent and unyielding will — an image that has become indispensable for the stability and cohesion of the regime.

In order to develop Xi’s strongman image and impose submission on the entire nation, the Communist Party propaganda machine has even resumed the titles used by Mao and other great dictators, such as “helmsman” and “people’s leader”. Loyalty to the country, the party and the leader has been made identical once again.

Still, there is rising resentment among some Chinese to Xi’s rule and the country faces enormous political, economic and social challenges. As such, Xi lives with a profound sense of insecurity. And his arbitrary rule and desire for absolute control make everyone else feel insecure.




Read more:
Xi Jinping’s grip on power is absolute, but there are new threats to his ‘Chinese dream’


It’s against this backdrop that “wolf warrior diplomacy” has taken rise. Those who are seen as being tough against any real or potential enemies designated by the great leader are rewarded for their loyalty.

This is why Zhao Lijian isn’t punished for his inflammatory rhetoric against Australia, the US and other adversaries; rather, he’s become a star because of it.

Zhao Lijian at a daily press briefing
Zhao Lijian has built his career on ‘wolf warrior’-style diplomacy.
Andy Wong/AP

Beijing sees an essential and soft target

And on the global stage, China has long promoted its economic and political system as a legitimate alternative to the US-led, rules-based international order.

As such, it has increasingly expanded its influence diplomatically and militarily in recent years and set up the Belt and Road Initiative to create a new global economic and infrastructure network with China at the centre.

As part of this grand strategy, China has taken aim at countries like Australia that dare to challenge it to force their submission.

Australia is perceived by the Communist Party as both an essential target for its close alliance with the US and a soft target for its economic dependence on China. In short, Beijing can attack Canberra without facing many repercussions — and set an example for the rest of the world.




Read more:
Australia can repair its relationship with China, here are 3 ways to start


The “wolf warriors” in the party have made frequent references to Australia being nothing but a pawn or lapdog of the US — an obvious attempt to drive a wedge between the two countries.

With nearly half of all Australian goods exports now going to China, Beijing has also tried to use this economic reliance to its advantage to force Canberra to modify its tone and behaviour.

China has recently targeted Australian wine
China slapped a huge tariff on Australian wine in recent weeks.
ALEX PLAVEVSKI/EPA

Showing the determination of the Communist Party regime to rein Australia in, the Chinese embassy in Canberra last month handed over a dossier of “14 grievances” to several Australian news outlets and demanded the Morrison government reverse Australia’s position on key policies.

These included criticising human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, calling for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19 and banning Huawei from the country’s 5G network.




Read more:
Behind China’s newly aggressive diplomacy: ‘wolf warriors’ ready to fight back


The Communist Party state will not recognise how its quest for regional domination and expansionist policies threaten its neighbours, nor will it understand how its oppressive policies against its own citizens are a cause of legitimate concern for the world.

It will also not accept the reality of a strong Australia fighting back against Chinese bullying and interference to safeguard its sovereignty, core values and institutional integrity.

Beijing is flexing its muscles to ensure the submission of Australia and break up an Australia-US alliance based on national interests and shared values. But this is a gross miscalculation that will likely bring about the opposite result.The Conversation

Chongyi Feng, Associate Professor in China Studies, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

China hits out again – then tells Australia to fix the relationship



Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Chinese embassy has suggested the Morrison government is trying to “stoke domestic nationalism” in its denunciation of an offensive Chinese tweet depicting an Australian soldier holding a knife to a child’s throat.

In a Tuesday statement the embassy also said the government should “face up to the crux of the current setback of bilateral relationship and take constructive practical steps to help bring it back to the right track”.

It did not say how this should be done.

The statement was the latest salvo in the angry exchanges between the two countries over the tweet posted by Lijian Zhao, director general of the information department in the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The tweet followed the Brereton report on atrocities allegedly committed by some members of Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

Morrison on Monday attacked the tweet, with its falsified image, as offensive and outrageous. The Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Frances Adamson, complained to the Chinese ambassador.

The embassy said “the rage and roar of some Australian politicians and media is nothing but misreading of and overreaction to Mr. Zhao’s tweet.

“The accusations made are simply to serve two purposes. One is to deflect public attention from the horrible atrocities by certain Australian soldiers.

“The other is to blame China for the worsening of bilateral ties. There may be another attempt to stoke domestic nationalism.”

“All of this is obviously not helpful to the resetting of bilateral relationship, ” said the statement, attributed to an embassy spokesperson. “It’s our advice that the Australian side face up to the crimes committed by the Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, hold those perpetrators accountable and bring justice to the victims.”

Having made his point about the tweet very strongly on Monday, Morrison on Tuesday did not want to escalate the row further. He told the Coalition parties meeting the Australian response did not need further amplification.

Earlier an aggressive article from the editor-in-chief of China’s Global Times, an official mouthpiece, said: “Australian troops and fleets should leave Asia and coastal waters of the Asian continent,

“More precisely, they should run as far as they can. The Morrison administration is making Australia provocative and wanting a spanking.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said NZ had raised the tweet with China.

“New Zealand has registered directly with Chinese authorities our concern over the use of that image,” she said.

She said the post was not factual “and, of course, that would concern us”.

Afghanstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement it was “aware of a photo showing an Australian soldier’s misconduct with an Afghan and has started investigating the case”.

It said the ministry and the Australian government were “jointly working to investigate the misconduct of the Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. The aim of the investigation is to ensure that the perpetrators are identified and brought to justice.”

It added that Afghanistan believed “both Australia and China are key players in building and maintaining international and regional consensus on peace and development in Afghanistan. Afghanistan hopes to maintain and strengthen cooperation with the two countries.”

As the fallout from the Brereton report continues on multiple fronts, including with pressure from the government and others for those up the chain of military command to be accorded more responsibility for what had happened in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said: “the report does demonstrate very serious failures of leadership over many years in the Australian Defence Force and across the defence organisation more widely.

“The reasons for those leadership failures and command failures need serious analysis and considerations. …

“Any of the allegations of criminality in that report are going through the Office of Special Investigator and they will be carefully considered through the Australian criminal justice process with the presumption of innocence, of course. But there are serious issues that now need to be addressed in how this happened and how it was able to happen for so long.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia can repair its relationship with China, here are 3 ways to start



Lukas Coch/AAP

Melissa Conley Tyler, University of Melbourne

China has certainly got Australia’s attention with a highly inflammatory tweet from a government spokesperson. It has provoked the desired reaction — a storm of outrage.




Read more:
Australia demands apology from China over ‘repugnant’ slur on Twitter


This is the latest in an ever-growing list of problems between Australia and China. In recent days, China imposed new tariffs on wine, while Australia threatened legal action on barley.

None of this is inevitable. Australia and China may not be best friends anytime soon, but they can reset the relationship.

Australia could make one big gesture and two small to improve its relationship with China. As federal parliament meets in Canberra, there is even an opportunity to start this week.

What’s wrong?

It’s the multi-billion dollar question: what could the Australian government do if it wanted to reset the relationship with China?

Sometimes when China has dealt out economic punishment, the desired result has been clear — such as pressuring South Korea to cancel a missile defence system. But in Australia’s case, China’s displeasure is not directed towards one policy. It’s more a sense Australia has been acting in an unfriendly, hostile manner and this has consequences.

We know this because China recently leaked a 14-point list of grievances via the Australian media. It contained no surprises, but is useful to show where there may be room to manoeuvre.

Beijing’s 14 points

Out of the 14, there were only a few relating to what I see as non-negotiable interests. These relate to Australia’s criticism of human rights abuses in China, cyber-attacks and the South China Sea dispute.

Quite a few should also be interpreted as venting — such as China’s criticism of Australia’s foreign interference powers and Australia’s decision to exclude Huawei and ZTE from the 5G network over national security concerns. Realistically, Australia is not going to reverse these decisions.




Read more:
Chinese reveal their journalists in Australia were questioned in foreign interference investigation


Similarly, Australia’s call for an inquiry into COVID-19, questions over the origins of the virus, alleged raids on Chinese journalists and revoking visas for Chinese scholars are now in the past.

Others on the list are gripes China knows the Australian government can’t do much about, such as “antagonistic” media reports or members of parliament making “outrageous” comments.

But the language used in the 14-points suggests many of the problems are less about the policy and more about how it’s been communicated, such as former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announcing foreign interference legislation as “standing up to China”.




Read more:
An all-out trade war with China would cost Australia 6% of GDP


Australia may come to regret being stridently tough on China without thinking through the real-world consequences. It costs China very little to punish Australia economically in sectors where it has other suppliers or wants to encourage domestic production.

If the core problem is a perception that Australia is unfriendly, this suggests the best way to show a desire for better relations is through a big gesture — ideally one that is showy but low cost. China has said it wants actions, not words, so a speech alone won’t cut it.

The grand gesture

If Australia did want to signal a desire to be more friendly without changing any of its policies, what might it do?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a virtual press conference, responding to China's tweet.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded China apologise for an offensive tweet about Australian soldiers.
Lukas Coch/ AAP

The best candidate would be to sign up for the Belt and Road Initiative. There is zero chance this will happen — despite earlier neutral comments, the federal government has made this clear. But it meets all the criteria for a gesture to reset the relationship.

First, it’s entirely symbolic and doesn’t bind Australia to do anything. Australia can participate in individual projects or not as it chooses. Second, there’s no material cost to Australia, or any need to alter substantive policies. Yet it would be read as a significant gesture by China.




Read more:
Why is there so much furore over China’s Belt and Road Initiative?


The fact that it’s not on the table shows how the range of options to pursue the national interest has been narrowed by priming the public to see China as an enemy, rather than as a challenge to be managed.

Two other options

There are two smaller options that are achievable and in Australia’s interests. And they are both before parliament.

First, the Senate is currently debating a bill to give the Foreign Affairs Minister the power to cancel international agreements entered into by state governments, local councils and universities. China has specifically named this in its grievances as “targeting” China.




Read more:
Morrison’s foreign relations bill should not pass parliament. Here’s why


I’ve argued in detail why it’s a terrible piece of legislation that would impose a large compliance burden and negatively affect Australia’s international engagement. It would be in Australia’s own interests to drop it and come up with a better, more targeted response.

Second, parliament is also looking at amendments to foreign investment rules, which China singled out at the top of its list as “opaque”. Foreign investment puts money into the Australian economy so this is an area of potential mutual interest.

China’s complaint is the lack of transparency about which investments get approved — it sees the process as ideological. The Australian government could, for example, postpone proposed amendments and consult with investor countries about how the process could be improved in Australia’s self-interest.

A diplomatic mindset

Some will say Australia shouldn’t do any of these things precisely because China might want them. And China is hardly helping its case by exercising subtle or effective diplomacy.

But deciding to always oppose lets China control your behaviour. We need a negotiation mentality. We need to find things we don’t mind giving that China values in order to get what we want. That’s not “capitulation” or “obeisance” — it’s acting in our own self-interest.

Scott Morrison walks past Xi Jinping at the G20 in June 2019.
Australia cannot change China, but it can change how it responds.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Australia has no ability to remake China into a completely different country. We need to live with it. This means both standing up to China and getting along — hardening our defences, while ensuring our economic prosperity. Without an economy, a country can’t pay to keep itself safe.

Australia is not under military attack, offensive as China’s “wolf warrior diplomats” can be.

Australia and China have disputes that can and should be managed diplomatically. It is not inevitable we must have a bad relationship – and it’s certainly not a sign of success if we do.The Conversation

Melissa Conley Tyler, Research Fellow, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

An all-out trade war with China would cost Australia 6% of GDP



Iron ore mining, Pilbara Western Australia.
STRINGER Image/Shutterstock

Rod Tyers, University of Western Australia and Yixiao Zhou, Australian National University

China accounts for more than a third of export dollars earned by Australia.

The figures, for the 12 months to October, cover the period of coronavirus disruptions and disputes over trade.

They apply to physical exports rather than harder to measure services, and are dominated by record high Chinese takings of Australian iron ore.

But they mightn’t last.

China is changing, transitioning from growth driven by the iron-ore hungry expansion of cities and manufacturing to growth driven more by the supply of services.

Externally, its “belt and road” infrastructure investments facilitate the supply of resources from locations other than Australia, among them the Simandou iron ore and bauxite deposits in Guinea, West Africa that will eventually offer higher quality ore than Australia from a region China may regard as more friendly.




Read more:
Australia demands apology from China over ‘repugnant’ slur on Twitter


Even if this source is slow to emerge, China will seek to diversify its supplies of iron ore by other means, as suggested by Australia’s former ambassador Geoff Raby in his recent book China’s Grand Strategy and Australia’s Future in the New Global Order.

One will be to ensure a steady supply from Brazil which, with China, is a member of the BRICS group of major emerging national economies.

Australia produces few manufactured goods and pays for the considerable quantity it imports by exporting commodities, mostly to China.

The loss of this export channel would be serious, but how serious?

Iron ore matters more than we think

Conversation authors John Quiggin and James Laurenceson argue the effects would be small. They point out that mineral exports account for only 1% of Australia’s national income and that China would hurt itself if it cut off the flow.

But China’s size means the damage to China would be proportionately smaller than the damage to Australia.

And while the mining sector is not the largest in Australia’s economy, its growth since 2002 has brought with it a secondary boom in Australian service industries. Australia’s East Coast cities have prospered even while most of the mining has been occurring in the Pilbara.




Read more:
Relax, losing access to China won’t make us the ‘poor white trash of Asia’


The mining boom brought a substantial boost to our terms of trade (the earning power of our exports relative to the cost of our imports), pushing up the Australian dollar and making imported goods much cheaper.

A reversal would see our terms of trade fall and our cost of living rise.

Some commentators place store in our ability to redirect exports of wine and barley, and whatever else is affected by trade disputes, to other customers.

At least for iron ore, however, there are few other customers at current volumes. This suggests a decline in export prices and in Australia’s terms of trade.

Damage to us, a mozzie bite for China

So its worthwhile attempting to quantify the damage from a winding back by China of its imports from Australia.

We have conducted simulations of the effect of shutting down Australia-China trade by 95% in which we allow time for capital flows and production and employment to readjust and assume that monetary policy and fiscal balances remain unaltered throughout the world.

We find the shock to the demand for Australian products is large and it is only partially offset by the redirection of our exports, even with a large depreciation of the Australian dollar.




Read more:
Hopes of an improvement in Australia-China relations dashed as Beijing ups the ante


The reason for this is that the loss of Chinese exports reduces the rate of return on investment in Australia, forcing financial markets to reallocate finance to other parts of the world.

The effects on Australian gross domestic product and real disposable income per capita are big (6% and 14 %), while those on China are mosquito bites by comparison (0.5% and 2.4%).

It’s wise to be prepared

SunCable is planning the world’s biggest solar array in the Northern Territory.
Apiromsene/Shutterstock

Important things we can do to hedge against such an occurrence include maintaining strong relations with current and potential export destinations and fostering innovations that will allow our export product mix to adjust so as to better service the markets that remain open.

Examples include the proposal by Ross Garnaut to turn Australia into an exporter of green energy and associated plans by Fortescue and others to raise exports of energy by more than the east coast of Australia currently consumes.

Without such innovations a substantial decline in trade with China would cut investment in Australia and cut living standards.

It is, of course, entirely possible that the worst won’t happen, but we don’t think that’s something Australians can bank on.

If our ship does begin to sink, capital and skills will jump off and what we are left with won’t be enough to support us in the manner we have come to expect.The Conversation

Rod Tyers, Winthrop Professor of Economics, University of Western Australia and Yixiao Zhou, Senior Lecturer in Economics, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia demands apology from China over ‘repugnant’ slur on Twitter


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded China apologise for – and Twitter remove – a highly offensive tweet depicting an Australian soldier with a knife to the throat of a child.

Morrison described the tweet as disgusting and utterly outrageous. Australia has protested to the Chinese embassy in Canberra, and a protest is also being made by Australia’s embassy in Beijing.

“The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes,” Morrison told a virtual news conference from The Lodge, where he is still in isolation after his trip to Japan.

“Australia is seeking an apology from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from the Chinese Government, for this outrageous post. We are also seeking its removal immediately and have also contacted Twitter to take it down immediately.”

Following the recent release of the Brereton inquiry into alleged atrocities by some members of Australian special forces in Afghanistan, the tweet was posted by Lijian Zhao, spokesman and deputy director general of the information department in the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

It said: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable”.

A line in the illustration said: “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!”

Morrison said the repugnant post of a falsified image of an Australian soldier threatening a young child had come from an official Chinese government Twitter account.

It was “truly repugnant” and “deeply offensive” to every Australian.

“[To] every Australian who has served in that uniform. Every Australian who serves in that uniform today. Everyone who has pulled on that uniform and served with Australians overseas from whatever nation,” he said.

“It is a false image and a terrible slur on our great defence forces and the men and women who’ve served in that uniform for over 100 years.”




Read more:
Biden win offers Morrison the chance to reshape Australia’s ailing relationship with China


Morrison said while there were undoubtedly tensions between China and Australia, “this is not how you deal with them”.

Rather, the way was to engage directly in dialogue between ministers and leaders.

“And despite this terribly offensive post today, I would ask again and call on China to re-engage in that dialogue.

“This is how countries must deal with each other to ensure that we can deal with any issues in our relationship, consistent with our national interests and respect for each other’s sovereignty. Not engaging in this sort of deplorable behaviour.”

Morrison said he hoped “this rather awful event” might lead to a “reset” in the relationship, allowing a dialogue to be restarted where there could be sensible talk about issues — “because this type of behaviour is not on”.

Morrison sought to put the situation in a wider international context.

“It’s not just about Australia. Countries around the world are watching this. They see how Australia is seeking to resolve these issues and they’re seeing these responses.

“This impacts not just on the relationship here, but with so many other sovereign nations, not only in our own region, but like-minded countries around the world who have expressed similar sentiments to Australia about many issues. And so it is important that these things end and the dialogue starts.”




Read more:
View from The Hill: How will ADF chief react if government insists Special Operations Task Group should keep citation?


When he was asked why he didn’t write to Chinese President Xi Jinping directly, Morrison said, “You assume that there hasn’t been such interactions. We’ve constantly sought that engagement. This is not new.”

Asked about the controversial issue of revoking the Meritorious Unit Citation for Special Operations Task Groups who served in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013, which was recommended by the Brereton report, Morrison said no decision had been made.

This is despite the chief of the Defence Force, Angus Campbell, saying when releasing the Brereton report that he would write to the governor-general asking for the revocation.

“No decisions have been made on that and were decisions to be made on that, that would only be following a further process. And that is where that matter rests right now,” Morrison told his news conference.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said he stood with Morrison in his condemnation of the China tweet. He said the opposition would not be asking about it in question time — the matter was above politics.

There was an immediate pushback from China – via Twitter – to Morrison’s attack.

Hú Xījìn, editor of the state-owned Global Times, tweeted:

“It is a popular cartoon that condemns the Australian Special Forces’s brutal murder of 39 Afghan civilians. On what ground does Morrison feel angry over the use of this cartoon by the spokesperson of Chinese FM? It’s ridiculous and shameless that he demanded China to apologize.”

The latest deepening of tensions in the bilateral relationship comes days after the Chinese imposed punitive tariffs on Australian wine.




Read more:
It’s hard to tell why China is targeting Australian wine. There are two possibilities


The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison remains very popular in Newspoll as the Coalition easily retains Groom in byelection



James Ross/AAP

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll will presumably be the final one for 2020. It gives the Coalition a 51-49% two-party-preferred lead, unchanged from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 2% One Nation (down one).

This is One Nation’s worst result in a federal Newspoll since before the 2019 federal election. It comes after the party slumped by 6.6 percentage points at the recent Queensland state election.

Newspoll figures are from The Poll Bludger. This poll was conducted November 25-28 from a sample of 1,511 people.

Two-thirds of respondents said they were satisfied with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s performance (up two points) and 30% were dissatisfied (down two), for a net approval of +36. Morrison’s approval rating has consistently been over 60% since April, following the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese recorded a net approval of +3, down one point. Morrison led as better PM by 60-28% (58-29% previously).




Read more:
Why good leaders need to hold the hose: how history might read Morrison’s coronavirus leadership


Coronavirus may be the only important issue for many voters at the moment, and Morrison is perceived to have handled that well. In normal times, issues less favourable to the Coalition would likely have gained traction, undermining Morrison’s ratings, but these times are not normal.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has enjoyed a similar polling boost in her state as well, due to her handling of the pandemic.

In a NSW YouGov poll taken after revelations of her affair with former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, she still had a 68-26% approval rating.

LNP easily retains Groom at federal byelection

There was very little media attention on Saturday’s byelection for the safe Coalition seat of Groom in Queensland.

Only four candidates ran, representing the Coalition, Labor, Sustainable Australia and the Liberal Democrats.

The LNP won by 66.6-33.4%, a 3.9% swing to Labor since the 2019 federal election.




Read more:
Final 2019 election results: education divide explains the Coalition’s upset victory


Primary votes were 59.0% for the LNP (up 5.6%), 27.8% for Labor (up 9.1%), 8.0% for Sustainable Australia and 5.3% for the Liberal Democrats. The major parties benefited from the absence of One Nation and the Greens, which respectively won 13.1% and 8.0% in 2019.

Analyst Kevin Bonham says the average swing against a government at byelections in its own seats is 6%, so this is not a great result for Labor.

Furthermore, there was a 5.2% swing to the Coalition in Groom in the 2019 election, as it romped to a 58.4-41.6% drubbing of Labor in Queensland.

If federal Labor had recovered support in Queensland since then, a much bigger swing would have been expected.

While Labor easily won the recent Queensland state election, state and federal voting can be very different.

Biden’s popular vote lead stretches

In the Cook Political Report tracker of the national popular vote in the US presidential election, President-elect Joe Biden leads incumbent Donald Trump by 51.1-47.1%.

Biden’s four-point lead is up from 3.1 percentage points on November 8 when the states of Pennsylvania and Nevada were called for him, making him the presumptive winner. Many mail votes are still be counted in New York, which will heavily favour Biden as well.

Biden came out on top in the Electoral College vote count, 306-232.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

Biden’s popular vote margin now exceeds Barack Obama’s margin of 3.9 percentage points in 2012. But Obama won the “tipping-point” state that put him over the magic 270 electoral college votes by 5.4 points, while Biden won his tipping-point state (Wisconsin) by just 0.6 percentage points.

Trump performed 3.4 percentage points better in the tipping-point state in 2020 than in the national popular vote and this difference will increase further as more New York votes are counted. In the 2016 election, the difference was 2.9 points.




Read more:
What’s behind Trump’s refusal to concede? For Republicans, the end game is Georgia and control of the Senate


In the House of Representatives, the Democrats lead the Republicans 222-206 in seats, with seven races uncalled.

Republicans lead in all seven of these uncalled races. If they hold their leads, Democrats will win the House by just 222-213. That’s a net gain of 13 seats for Republicans from the 2018 midterm election.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Biden’s cabinet picks are globally respected, but one obstacle remains for the US to ‘lead the world’ again



Carolyn Kaster/AP

John Hawkins, University of Canberra

The “team of rivals” was the term historian Doris Kearns Goodwin used to describe US President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet. It included three men who had run against Lincoln for the Republican nomination for president in 1860: William Seward (secretary of state), Salmon Chase (treasury secretary) and Edward Bates (attorney general).

Appointing these strong-willed figures could have been disastrous were it not for Lincoln’s personal qualities.

Goodwin describes how Lincoln was willing to acknowledge when policies failed and change direction. He gathered facts on which to base decisions. He sought compromise but took full responsibility for his decisions, respected his colleagues and set an example of dignity. (In all these, he sounds like the antithesis of Donald Trump.)

President-elect Joe Biden has taken a different approach to filling out his cabinet so far. Aside from choosing Kamala Harris as his vice president, he’s looked past his main Democratic rivals for the nomination — Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders — and appointed mainly technical experts with relevant experience and an international outlook.

Biden may have seen these more technocratic appointments as fitting with his less partisan style. It also sends a signal to the world that the US wants to reengage.

In Biden’s words, the US is “ready to lead the world, not retreat from it”. And as Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the new UN ambassador put it, “multilateralism is back”.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield is a career diplomat and former ambassador to Liberia.
AHMED JALLANZO/EPA

Team of talent

Biden may not have filled his cabinet with rivals, but he has also not surrounded himself with clones or an “echo chamber”. He made clear he wanted his cabinet to

tell me what I need to know, not what I want to know.

As secretary of state, he has appointed Antony Blinken. A francophone internationalist, Blinken served as former President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of state.




Read more:
From ‘America first’ to ‘America together’: who is Antony Blinken, Biden’s pick for secretary of state?


He once made a charming appearance on Sesame Street, telling Grover about the United Nations and refugees. He commented

we all have something to learn and gain from one another even when it doesn’t seem at first like we have much in common.

The message is a long way from “America first” and the disdain for the rest of the world shown by the Trump administration.

Advocates of free trade and climate change action

As treasury secretary, Biden has appointed Janet Yellen. She was chair of the Federal Reserve from 2014–18 and currently heads the American Economic Association. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz recalled her as one of his brightest students.

It is quite an achievement to be the most famous economist in a family that includes a Nobel Prize winner (her husband George Akerlof).

Janet Yellen is a strong supporter of open trade.
Craig Ruttle/AP

An advocate of free trade and expert in labour markets, she understands the damage that Trump’s trade wars, especially with China, have done to working Americans.

Being chair of the Federal Reserve also gave Yellen an important role in international organisations, such as the Bank for International Settlements.




Read more:
Vital Signs: Janet Yellen, the very model of a modern Madam Secretary


John Kerry has been appointed to the new post of climate envoy. He is globally respected as a former secretary of state, and ran unsuccessfully for president himself in 2004.

His appointment signals that the Biden administration recognises the importance of recommitting the US to climate action. Most significantly, Kerry was highly influential in the final week of negotiations of the Paris Agreement in 2015 and signed it for the US the following year with his granddaughter on his lap.

Kerry was personally involved in pushing the Paris Climate Agreement over the line.
Mark Lennihan/AP

And following four years of Trump’s anti-immigration policies, Biden has selected a Cuban-born immigrant, Alejandro Mayorkas, to lead the Department of Homeland Security. After his nomination, Mayorkas spoke of his desire

to advance our proud history as a country of welcome.

Potential roadblocks in the Senate

Biden has assembled a team with an international outlook that will re-commit the US to supporting international organisations, such as the World Health Organisation, and treaties like the Paris Agreement. He will seek to reform rather than just impede the World Trade Organisation.




Read more:
What a Biden presidency means for world trade and allies like Australia


But there’s one significant hurdle still looming. If the Democrats can’t gain control of the Senate by winning the two run-off elections in Georgia in early January, the Republican-led chamber will likely aim to block Biden’s aims of resuming a constructive global role.

For example, Biden will be able to issue an executive order to rejoin the Paris Agreement on his first day as president. But major reforms to cut greenhouse gas emissions or his proposed $2 trillion clean energy plan would face opposition in a Republican-controlled Senate.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell once described Biden as a ‘trusted partner’, but it remains to be seen how well the Republicans will work with the new administration.
Susan Walsh/AP

Optimists have compared Biden to former President Lyndon Johnson (also known as LBJ), who may be able to use his decades of legislative experience to achieve more change than was possible for John F. Kennedy or Obama.

Ron Klain, recently announced as Biden’s chief of staff, once put it well:

LBJ might not have been the wokest, coolest, hippest Democrat, but he’s the person who got the most actual progressive social justice legislation done since FDR […] he knew how to make the Senate work.

The rest of the world will hope Klain is right and that the Senate does not block the program of this promising new cabinet.




Read more:
Winning the presidency won’t be enough: Biden needs the Senate too


The Conversation


John Hawkins, Senior Lecturer, Canberra School of Politics, Economics and Society, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been released. But will a prisoner swap with Australia encourage more hostage-taking by Iran?



Iranian State Television/AP

Ian Parmeter, Australian National University

Australian-British academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s release from an Iranian prison after more than two years’ detention is certainly a welcome development.

However, the circumstances raise some uncomfortable questions for Australian and Western diplomats related to Iran’s penchant for using hostage-taking as a bargaining chip for the release of its own citizens detained abroad for suspected or proven crimes, including terrorism.

There seems little doubt Moore-Gilbert was released as part of a prisoner exchange. Iranian state media has shown pictures of the academic with Australian embassy officials in Tehran, juxtaposed with film of three Iranian men being welcomed by Iranian officials, apparently at Tehran’s airport.

The Iranian media says she was exchanged for an Iranian “economic activist” and two Iranian citizens, who had been detained “abroad on trumped-up charges”. The report does not name the men.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has given a carefully worded statement in response to questions about a prisoner swap.

If other people have been released in other places, they are the decisions of the sovereign governments. There are no people who have been held in Australia who have been released.

Morrison would not speak directly about the prisoner swap to ensure the safety of any other Australians detained overseas.
Lukas Coch/AAP

That may be true as far as Australia is concerned. But a report by The New York Times, quoting Iranian social media channels associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), identifies the three Iranians as Saeed Moradi, Mohammad Khazaei and Masoud Sedaghat Zadeh.

The three had been detained in Thailand since 2012 on charges of planning to plant bombs in Bangkok and assassinate Israeli diplomats there. One of those men had reportedly lost his legs when a bomb he was carrying exploded prematurely.




Read more:
I kept silent to protect my colleague and friend, Kylie Moore-Gilbert. But Australia’s quiet diplomatic approach is not working


In a similar context, the release last year of two Australians being held in Iran, Jolie King and Mark Firkin, coincided with an Iranian research student at the University of Queensland, Reza Dehbashi Kivi, being permitted by Australian officials to return to his home country.

Dehbashi Kivi had allegedly been seeking to export radar equipment for detecting stealth planes in contravention of US sanctions. The ABC reported at the time the US was seeking his extradition.

Quiet diplomacy usually works best

The Australian government is depicting Moore-Gilbert’s release as a win for quiet diplomacy in assisting Australians arrested abroad.

There is no doubt a calm and measured approach is the most effective way of resolving knotty consular cases – even when the charges levelled against our citizens seem highly doubtful, as was the case with Moore-Gilbert.

This approach worked with the release of journalist Peter Greste from detention in Egypt in 2015, although there is no evidence of any prisoner exchange or other quid pro quo in that case.

Peter Greste waves to supporters after arriving in Australia following his release from an Egyptian prison.
Tertius Pickard/AP

In the Moore-Gilbert case, the apparent prisoner exchange would have required the agreement of the Thai government, and possibly clearing the arrangement with Israel as well, given the Iranians held in Thailand had reportedly been plotting attacks against Israeli interests. Quite an effort for “quiet diplomacy”.

Australians travelling abroad are constantly reminded they are subject to the laws of the country they are visiting. If an Australian is detained abroad, the most consular officials can usually do is ensure that person is treated fairly and humanely in accordance with local laws.

Thumping the table and making demands, even if the charges seem totally outrageous, is usually totally counter-productive.

A fraught relationship

The situation for Australians who get into trouble in Iran is particularly fraught. Australia’s relations with Iran are tense at normal times. The Iranian security authorities see Australia as close not only to the US, but to Israel, and are therefore suspicious of Australians.

If an Australian is a dual-Iranian national, Iranian law treats him or her as an Iranian citizen, further complicating the task of consular officials when individuals are detained.




Read more:
The Australian government needs to step up its fight to free Kylie Moore-Gilbert from prison in Iran


Iran has reason to be particularly suspicious of US and Israeli hostility at the moment.

In July, there were reports of a series of explosions at sites linked Iran’s missile and nuclear programs.

A satellite image shows a damaged building after a fire and explosion at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site in July.
Planet Labs Inc./AP

Media reports suggested Israel was responsible. Israel has a history of unattributed attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, including use of the Stuxnet computer virus, which US officials have confirmed was developed in partnership with the US.

Moreover, under the Trump administration, the US has had a policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran’s economy, which has drastically curtailed Iran’s oil exports. Israel’s Defence Forces have also been instructed to prepare for the possibility Trump may order a military strike against Iran in the final days of his presidency, according to Axios.

Other Westerners still being detained

Complicating Australia’s relationship with Iran even further are the different power centres in Iran.

Iran’s IRGC has the power to overrule all civilian authorities, including President Hassan Rouhani. It was significant that Moore-Gilbert was arrested when seeking to leave Iran after attending an academic conference to which she had been formally invited. This implied official approval to enter and leave the country.




Read more:
Infographic: what is the conflict between the US and Iran about and how is Australia now involved?


Diplomatic and consular officials in Tehran must also deal with the Iranian Foreign Ministry in cases involving detained foreigners. The foreign ministry is often powerless in cases in which the IRGC has an interest.

So Moore-Gilbert’s release at this time is remarkably fortuitous, particularly as Iran currently holds more than 10 Westerners or dual-national citizens captive.

However, if it is confirmed that the deal is a direct prisoner exchange, criticism here and among our allies that Australia has aided and abetted Iran’s hostage taking strategy is bound to grow.The Conversation

Ian Parmeter, Research Scholar, Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Officials’ engagement with China especially important in tense times: Morrison


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has encouraged federal public servants to engage with their Chinese counterparts, saying these are important connections particularly given the tensions in the bilateral relationship.

Answering a question during a virtual forum on Wednesday with federal bureaucrats, Morrison said officials were not burdened like ministers or prime ministers with “the overlays of the international relations”.

“One of the advantages that you would have is to be able to engage on the technical, on the direct, leverage on the relationships that you already have.

“I would see that as an important connection, particularly at a time when there are tensions – and of course there are tensions,” Morrison said. “In those circumstances, we rely more on these official engagements.”

Australia’s trading relationship with China is presently bedevilled by the imposition of impediments on a range of Australian exports; Trade Minister Simon Birmingham and other ministers have not been able to get their phone calls returned by their Chinese counterparts.

Speaking earlier this week, Morrison emphasised that Australia “desires an open, transparent and mutually beneficial relationship with China as our largest trading partner”.

The Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Department, Frances Adamson, said in a Wednesday speech that China may now wrongly believe it can largely set its terms of future engagement with the world.

Adamson said with its rising economic weight “unsurprisingly … China wants to set, rather than merely adopt, international standards. China wants to lead, rather than simply join, international institutions.”

China’s economic recovery from the COVID crisis would be important in how the region and the world came out “from what threatens to be a long and uneven recovery from the COVID-recession,” she said.

“But the questions around China are much more wide-ranging than simply its economic approach. No power this large and globally integrated can escape scrutiny or debate,” she said.

“The rest of the world has done a lot of thinking about China’s power and what it means.

“But it is less apparent that China has carefully considered other countries’ reactions to its conduct internationally. China may have reached a point where it believes that it can largely set the terms of its future engagement with the world.

“If it has, it is mistaken – and that is because there is far more to be gained for China, and for everyone else, through working constructively and collaboratively within the international system, without resort to pressure or coercion.”

At the public service forum, the CEO of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Wez Norris, said for those in the “weeds” of Australia’s administrative dealings with China “there doesn’t appear to be a lot of consistency in … how we go about trading off things like domestic commercial interests against our wider trade and relationship interests”.

Morrison said in his reply that the Chinese government had said publicly that “they are not engaging in any sort of political activity in relation to these quite specific issues that are arising in trade.

“Well, we take that at face value, but that is a line and a position that I would have thought that officials can actually repeat in being able to engage on the technicalities.

“Whether it’s dealing with issues on barley or fisheries or any of these sorts of things where there are technical matters being raised … we’ve just got to work the problem.

“That’s what I’m relying on officials to do. I’m not asking officials to solve the international relations issue, that falls to me and ministers and others.”

Morrison said it was “a complex and … difficult environment”. His message to the officials was “keep up the connections and do all you can to improve them and keep the dialogue going at that level, because business and industry are relying on that to enable us to try and mitigate the impact of some of these measures that are being introduced” by the Chinese.

The “stuff” that went on between politicians and leaders was “not something that should have to trouble the working relationship that you’re engaged in”.

Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said Morrison should do more to seek to resolve the problems in the trading relationship with China “at leadership level”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.