Senior ministers in the federal government have rejected a relatively conciliatory message from China’s new ambassador to Australia, who has promised to get the bilateral relationship “back on track”.
- China’s new ambassador has arrived in Australia
- State-owned Chinese media say the ambassador wants to reset the relationship
- Government ministers remain skeptical of China’s intentions
Xiao Qian – who most recently served as China’s ambassador to Indonesia – landed in Sydney earlier this week and issued a public statement saying the ties between Canberra and Beijing were at a “critical juncture” facing many difficulties and challenges as well. as enormous opportunities and potential “.
“I look forward to working with the Australian Government … to increase mutual understanding and trust, eliminate misunderstandings and suspicions, promote mutually beneficial exchanges and co-operation in all areas between the two sides and jointly push relations between China and China. Australia back on track, “he said.
The new ambassador also paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of China-Australia relations, saying that “the older generation of Chinese and Australian leaders fostered the establishment of diplomatic relations with foresight and pioneering statesmanship”.
“Since the door to communication and exchanges was opened, we have witnessed frequent exchanges and fruitful cooperation results in various fields,” he said.
Although the new ambassador did not signal any political changes in his remarks, it still represents a significant change of tone from the Chinese government.
Chinese officials in both Beijing and Canberra have continued to blame Australia in recent months, and the bilateral relationship is still bound up in mutual ugliness and suspicion.
Only last week, the Chinese embassy accused Britain and Australia of “reusing and making baseless accusations” and “fabricating lies to smear China”, after the two countries again criticized Beijing’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea and human rights violations in Hong Kong. and Xinjiang.
The normally antagonistic Chinese state-owned newspaper Global Times also quoted Chinese “analysts” as calling the message “a gesture of kindness and goodwill to reset and improve conditions that are at their lowest”, while also stressing that Australia had to “correct” their “wrong China policies”.
Defense Minister: China remains ‘warring’
So far, Morrison’s government ministers and lawmakers have responded to the remarks with caution or skepticism.
Defense Secretary Peter Dutton, who has been sharply critical of the Chinese government, said he “hopes” the new ambassador was sincere, but it was important to keep international focus on China’s “warring” approach to other countries and human rights violations.
“At the moment, China is in conflict not only with us, where they cut off markets and cyber attacks and other activities that take place, but [also] “With the Philippines, they are at odds with the Indians, with the Vietnamese, with many other countries – and that’s a belligerent approach, it’s unacceptable,” Dutton told the 2GB radio station.
“These are the issues the world needs to talk about, and if we remain silent and we remain weak, and [to] block our ears and pretend it will disappear, the problem will only get worse. “
Another Morrison government source said that while the friendlier tone was welcome, they were skeptical that there would be a significant shift in China’s approach to Australia until after this year’s federal election.
Liberal MP and former Australian diplomat Dave Sharma said the new ambassador’s message could signal Beijing’s willingness to resume diplomatic dialogue with federal government ministers, but it was important not to “overinterpret the potential for a reset of the relationship. “
“China may be changing its tactics, but I do not think its ultimate goals and objectives have changed here,” he told Sky News.
In a brief statement, Secretary of State Marise Payne said: “The Australian Government welcomes the newly appointed Chinese Ambassador to Australia and looks forward to engaging with him.”
Lowy Institute analyst Natasha Kassam said the new ambassador “seems to be taking a cautious approach and testing the waters when he arrives in Canberra”.
“Knowing that Australia is heading for an election campaign and the Australian public view of China is at a historic low, the relationship could be in pattern for now,” she said.
“The early response from the Minister of Defense indicates that there will be no thaw in the frost-ready relationship.”