Recording early afternoon on Wednesday 7 September, Allan and Darren begin by grappling with the previous day’s news of the arrival back in Australia of the last two China correspondents from Australian media outlets: the ABC’s Bill Birtles and the AFR’s Mike Smith. Darren tries to piece together his own theory of what happened, and Allan offers some insight on the mechanics behind DFAT’s role in cases like these, both in warning Australians of risks, and then the decision to shelter them, in this case while negotiating their safe departure from China. Note that the conversation occurred before more details emerged of allegations by PRC state media of “raids” on PRC journalists in Australia by national security agencies, and news of the cancellation of visas for two Chinese scholars.
The discussion turns next to the speech delivered by the Deputy Head of Mission at the Chinese embassy, Wang Xining, at the National Press Club in late August. Allan explains the types of constraints on all diplomats in giving a speech like this, and both he and Darren agree that the prepared text did seem to lean more towards conciliatory than provocative. In the context of a very low month in the bilateral relationship, which also included new investigations into Australian wine exports, the detention of another Australian citizen, CGTN anchor Cheng Lei, and Australia's blocking of an acquisition by a PRC company of a Japanese-owned milk processing company on national interest grounds, they wonder whether the speech will have any lasting impact. In light of some recent analysis Darren asks, is Australia only recently “standing up” to China, or has Australia’s approach been consistent, as claimed by PM Morrison?
Allan and Darren both weigh on the Foreign Affairs Bill announced by the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister recently, which if it becomes law is expected to enable Canberra to cancel the Belt and Road Initiative MOU signed by the State of Victoria. As a historian of Australian foreign policy, Allan cannot recall a single issue where state actions have been a real problem for Australian foreign policy, and he observes that the “national interest” test could be wielded in very different ways by different governments into the future.
Finally, the two discuss the legacy of retiring Japanese Prime Minster Abe Shinzo, and Allan offers his view on the merits of former PM Tony Abbott taking a position advising the UK government on trade policy.
We thank AIIA intern Mitchell McIntosh for his help with research and audio editing and XC Chong for research support. Thanks as always to Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.
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