EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Julia Gillard kowtows to Beijing
, April 27, 2013
The rapturous headlines which followed Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s announcement of a new “strategic partnership” with China can only help a government whose standing at home has plummeted to historically low levels.
The announcement, made while the Ms Gillard was in Beijing, prompted one commentator to say that the “new bilateral architecture” marked the most significant change in Australian foreign policy since Gough Whitlam went to China in 1971.
The new strategic partnership will include annual meetings of the Australian Prime Minister with the Chinese Premier, and of Australia’s foreign minister with his Chinese counterpart, as well as an annual “strategic economic dialogue” led by Australia’s Treasurer and Minister for Trade, with China’s National Development and Reform Commission.
Additionally, Australia will expand military co-operation, with China being invited to participate in joint Australia-US military exercises and in what The Australian has described as “working level” discussions between Australian defence officials and their Chinese counterparts from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on regional security issues. (The Australian, April 10, 2013)
The Australian government has also agreed that it will co-operate with China in the delivery of development assistance to Third World countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Furthermore, negotiations for a free trade agreement with China, which have been underway since 2005, will be accelerated.
While a strong economic relationship with China is necessary, in light of China’s role as Australia’s main trading partner, the extension of this relationship into a “strategic partnership” is dangerously misguided.
What the Gillard government is doing is putting China ahead of many of Australia’s long-term regional partners, including Japan and Indonesia, and arguably elevating China to the same level as the United States.
China, after all, is a one-party dictatorship which routinely violates the basic human rights, including freedom of association and freedom of religion, of its 1.4 billion people. A number of Australian citizens continue to languish in Chinese prisons after farcical trials which make a mockery of the word justice.
The suppression of Tibetan Buddhism, the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, and the continued persecution of Chinese Christians who want freedom from state control — all these abuses continue unabated.
In the international arena, the Beijing regime is conducting cyber-warfare on an unprecedented scale against the West, particularly the United States, stealing an unimaginable amount of sensitive commercial and trade data, as well as intellectual property and personal information.
When confronted with the clearest evidence of breaches of its international obligations and breaches of existing trade agreements, China has denied the evidence point blank.
It has repeated its claim for sovereignty over the entire South China Sea and dangerously escalated tensions with Japan in the East China Sea over the disputed sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, known in China as the Diaoyu Islands.
Interestingly, Taiwan, which also claims sovereignty over the islands, has led the push for a diplomatic solution to this conflict, and Japan and Taiwan recently signed a fishing agreement which defined their respective fishing rights in overlapping territories in the East China Sea and allowed an expansion of Taiwan’s fishing grounds.
With immediate effect, the agreement “expands the areas in which Taiwanese fishermen can operate” without interference by Japanese authorities, according to Taiwan’s Foreign Minister, David Lin (China News Agency, April 10, 2013).
China also remains almost the only ally of the bizarre national prison known as North Korea, whose bellicose statements and actions have heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The danger in forming a strategic partnership — as distinct from a normal commercial relationship — with China should have been obvious to those members of the government who understand the nature of totalitarianism.
It will undoubtedly undermine Australia’s relations with the democracies in our region, by conveying to them that Australia values its strategic relationship with Beijing more than the close regional ties which have been built up over the past 60 years.
It will also adversely affect relations with our Western allies who understand the importance of protecting existing strategic relationships.
It may be that, like everything else the Gillard government does, domestic political considerations have determined the government’s policy. In other words, the China deal is designed to win headlines and help Labor’s prospects in the next federal election.
From Beijing’s perspective, it locks future Australian governments into a closer relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.
If that is the case, it will be even more important that the Opposition parties win government so as to reverse policies which seriously undermine Australia’s national interests.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.