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Australia will stand up to China to defend peace, liberal values and the rule of law: Julie Bishop

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Australia will stand up to China to defend peace, liberal values and the rule of law, says Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. 

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe arrive to tour the Rio Tinto West Angelas iron ore mine.

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe arrive to tour the Rio Tinto West Angelas iron ore mine. Photo: Reuters

In the Coalition government’s clearest statement yet on how to handle China, Ms Bishop said it had been a mistake for previous governments to avoid speaking about China for fear of causing offence.

"China doesn’t respect weakness," Ms Bishop told Fairfax Media, marking a break from the policies of previous governments whose reticence, she said, had only caused confusion.

Ms Bishop said the experience in November of speaking out against China’s unilateral declaration of an Air Defence Information Zone – which led to the Chinese foreign minister famously tearing strips off her in Beijing with cameras rolling – had fortified her view that it was better to be frank than misunderstood.

'China doesn't respect weakness': Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

'China doesn't respect weakness': Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Photo: Ken Irwin

“This did affect our national interest because it meant that, for example, our national carrier Qantas suddenly had to inform Beijing even if it wasn’t flying anywhere near,” she said.

“The freedom of the skies and freedom of the seas in that part of the world is important to us because that’s where the majority of our trade is done.

“So I believed that, at that time, we had to make it clear where we stood on unilateral action that could be seen as coercive and could be seen to  – and which did – affect our national interests.”                                                                                         

Illustration: Ron Tandberg.

Illustration: Ron Tandberg.

Those who said Australia had to choose between its security alliances and economic engagement with China had been proven “absolutely” wrong, she said, noting that there had been no economic fall-out from that forthright exchange.  

Ms Bishop also made the clearest public statement yet of how the increasingly militarised disputes on China’s periphery were prompting Australia to deepen and broaden military ties with the United States and other nations, most notably Japan.

Those trends have been on display this week with Prime Minister Tony Abbott agreeing to a “strategic” defence relationship and new military technology sharing agreements with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who leaves Australia on Wednesday.

“We know that the optimum is deeper engagement [with China],” said Ms Bishop. “But we’re also clear-eyed about what could go wrong. So you have to hope for the best but manage for the worst.”

Successive Australian governments have been flummoxed about how to speak about China.

Prime ministers and foreign ministers have mostly voiced concerns quietly, or not at all, in the hope that problems could be resolved behind closed doors.

But Ms Bishop said her government had moved decisively and deliberately to match deeds with words.

“Foreign policy under the Coalition is designed to project and protect our reputation as an open market export-oriented economy,” she said.

“And so all we do and say supports those values we have on the economic front, and our values as an open liberal democracy committed to rule of law, committed to freedoms and committed to international norms,” she said.

“So, when something affects our national interest then we should make it very clear about where we stand.”

The Abbott government has also been forthright in speaking out against the detention of an Australian artist, Guo Jian, who was released after being detained for making and talking about an installation commemorating the Tiananmen massacres.

It has also spoken firmly against the arrest of a leading Chinese lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang.

And while many commentators, including in the United States itself, were beginning to debate the credibility of American power, Ms Bishop said she had no doubt that America would remain the pre-eminent force internationally.

“This is a debate that the US will have to have about its role in the world,” she said. “It is currently the only super power with the military capability to act globally and the US must determine whether it’s going to continue in that role. I believe that it must, and it will.”

Ms Bishop drew attention to the warmth displayed between Mr Abe and Australian leaders this week, including in response to Mr Abe’s “very gracious, generous, positive and very personal” speech, delivered in English, despite Mr Abe not being confident speaking in a second language.

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112 comments

  • The pirates are pressing the Chinese to introduce the rule of law ?

    Commenter
    adam
    Location
    yarrawonga
    Date and time
    July 10, 2014, 7:38AM
    • Hilarious, isn't it? I have to wonder - if Ms Bishop is suddenly so passionate about liberal values, is she going to extend her "we're not scared of them" approach to our Middle Eastern trading partners as well?

      Commenter
      EmilyA
      Date and time
      July 10, 2014, 8:09AM
    • Our genius Julie says "China does not respect weakness". So she does care about what they think. She wants their respect. But Jules, we are weak. We are 22 million and they are about 1.5 billion. In reality China barely knows we exist. I have been there 4 times and the average person knows nothing about Australia. We are utterly insignificant. Occasionally they mention kangaroos but I assure you they know nothing of North Melbourne. There are huge cities in China bigger than Sydney that most Aussies have not even heard of.

      Commenter
      Tiny Montgomery
      Date and time
      July 10, 2014, 8:32AM
    • And which "Middle Eastern trading partners" are they exactly?

      Commenter
      WotTha?????
      Date and time
      July 10, 2014, 8:33AM
    • Julie Bishop mouthing about Liberal values. The Abbott Government abandoned the real principles of Liberal politics long ago. Saying her government adheres to Liberal values doesn't stand up to scrutiny, quite simply it is a lie. Re her smug attitude to China, bravado is one thing, reality is another, she should show more respect to the Chinese, after all Sir Tone is slowly selling this country to them and in the process conceding economic strength to their regional ambitions and approaching dominance. Bishop is part of the movement that will directly impact on US regional interests in the Asian sphere, her ignorance is stunning in terms of consequences that are now in train. She is in no imaginable way up to the task of managing her department.

      Commenter
      Neil (not on radio) Mitchell
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      July 10, 2014, 8:48AM
    • I think what she was tring to say (to paraphrase Randy Newman) was 'in the dream I had last night everybody scares us but the United States scares us the most'

      Commenter
      Dreyfus
      Location
      Grafton
      Date and time
      July 10, 2014, 8:57AM
    • I think her comments are excellent. We are important to China because of our resources, our small population is somewhat irrelevant. It is an interesting point that we are publicly demonstrating our support for the USA and Japan in reaction to China's bellicose actions in the South China Sea. I support that approach. We should not be kowtowing (nor should we be belligerent) to China at this important stage in their rise to power.

      Commenter
      Flanders
      Date and time
      July 10, 2014, 9:26AM
    • Adam has a good point. Hyocrisy, as well as weakness, invites contempt.

      @WottTa??? "nd which "Middle Eastern trading partners" are they exactly?"

      They would be buyers of Australian wheat and live sheep, like "Saudi" Arabia and Kuwait. As much as I detest the so-called "Communist" regime in China, it is streets ahead of the House of Saud in respect for individual liberties and the rule of law.

      @Flanders: "It is an interesting point that we are publicly demonstrating our support for the USA and Japan in reaction to China's bellicose actions in the South China Sea."

      And China is the only one being bellicose? Japan is at least as guilty as China, and with less justification. The Daioyu/Senkaku Islands were seized from China as part of the seizure of Taiwan in 1895. The US occupation government returned Taiwan to China in 1945, but kept the Daioyu/Senkaku Islands for military purposes, then handed them over to Japan in 1972.

      Julie Bishop rattles on about China's "unilateral" declaration of an air defence identification zone over the islands, but hasn't mentioned that Japan declared one unilaterally some years ago. The hypocrisy is a clear demonstration that what is going on is not "standing up to intimidaton", but containment. It is about keeping the Chinese Navy confined within the First Island Chain. Getting free access to the open ocean is the difference between China being a regional power and a global one.

      The United States is attempting to restrain the rise of China. China refuses to be restrained. Something has to give.

      Anybody who fails to see the resemblance to events 100 years ago just hasn't been paying attention.

      Commenter
      Greg Platt
      Location
      Brunswick
      Date and time
      July 10, 2014, 10:16AM
    • I'm sure China will be quaking in their boots at Julie's comments. As a Foreign Minister she's about as effective as a flea on an elephant.

      Commenter
      DaveB
      Date and time
      July 10, 2014, 10:26AM
    • Flanders they don't care if we kowtow or not. Interesting about bowing though. It occurred to me that Tones ought to learn to bow correctly to one of his best friends Mr Abe. Its always the other that must adjust to us like for example learning English. Tones ought to hone his cross cultural skills. Evidently Flanders you don't mind him kowtowing obsequiously to Mahinda Rajapaksa the leader of Sri Lanka. He has been associated with war crimes and a massacre. American diplomats including Patricia Butenis believed that Mahinda Rajapaksa was responsible for the massacres of Tamil civilians. I want to know Flanders what the criteria for Abbott to kowtow are.
      Interested to know your thoughts on this. Wrong to kowtow to China, right to kowtow to Sri Lanka? Both have an appalling human rights record. Yet Ms Bishop is only interested in not kowtowing to China.

      Commenter
      Railroad Bill
      Date and time
      July 10, 2014, 10:45AM

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