Chinese government ministers will not start answering phone calls from their Australian counterparts unless Canberra stops treating Beijing as a strategic threat, a senior embassy official warned.
China urges the Morrison government to make a clear decision on whether it views Beijing as a “threat” or an “opportunity,” establishing this as a key precondition for resuming the ministerial-level talks, which have been frozen since the beginning of this. year.
In a sign that there is no clear exit from the serious diplomatic gap, a Chinese embassy official told Guardian Australia that it was the responsibility of the Australian government to reflect on what it could do “to stop the decline of the bilateral relationship.” and create a better mood. for talks.
“Of course you can say that you need two people to tango, but here, as you can see, all the problem is caused by the Australian side,” said the official, who asked not to be identified.
“The central issue is that we think that the cold war mentality should be discarded to see China as an opportunity and not as a threat. Otherwise, the whole trajectory will be derailed. “
Scott Morrison and his ministers have repeatedly said that the ball is in the court of the Chinese government on Australia’s push for a “mature and sensible dialogue”, while insisting that they will not “exchange” values or sovereignty.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has complained for months that he was unable to reach his direct counterpart to discuss actions targeting Australia’s billions of dollars worth of exports.
The freeze followed Australia’s call in April for an independent international investigation into the origins and handling of Covid-19, which the Chinese government interpreted as an unfair target, but which Australia said was prompted by “unremarkable” desire to ensure that the world was prepared for the next pandemic.
Birmingham and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg reaffirmed this week that dialogue would be the best way to resolve any differences.
Despite the freeze on ministerial talks, China and Australia remain in regular contact at the official level. That includes Chinese diplomats in Canberra who regularly speak to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Australian diplomats in Beijing who speak to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
But China maintains the position that it would be pointless to have talks at the ministerial or leadership level unless Australia takes some tangible steps to foster what it calls a better environment for dialogue.
“The problem is caused by the Australian side,” the Chinese embassy official said on Friday. “China is trying to send a message that Australia must change the mindset of how China and its development are viewed and whether it is an opportunity or a threat, that is the problem.”
In an apparent change of tactic in the past two weeks, Chinese officials in both Beijing and Canberra have become increasingly vocal in detailing their objections to the Australian government’s stance.
This week Nine news revealed That the Chinese embassy has provided you with a list of 14 key areas of dispute, including Australia’s public comment on human rights or land issues in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang, is important to the view of the Communist Party of China as a ” central interest “of special sensitivity.
The list also included Australia’s Covid-19 inquiry call, a series of decisions on Chinese foreign investment proposals, and the Turnbull government’s 2018 move to block “high-risk” Chinese telecom companies, including Huawei, from the 5G network.
Nine News reported that the embassy list included “antagonistic” media reports and “scandalous” comments from some MPs, prompting an angry pushback from Australian ministers, who said it was a futile intervention and that the press free and politicians would not be gagged.
The report included a comment attributed to an official: “China is angry. If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy. “
The Chinese embassy official told Guardian Australia on Friday that the quote was a reference to a comment made by Geoff Raby, a former Australian ambassador to China.
“Of course, if China is treated as an enemy, it will surely become one,” Raby said. wrote in the Australian Financial Review in July. Raby is listed in Australia’s foreign influence transparency scheme as a board member Yancoal, a resource company listed on ASX and majority owned by a Chinese state company.
When asked about the meaning of the quote, the Chinese embassy official elaborated: “If you are facing a country, why should a country be friendly to you?”
When contacted for a response, a Dfat spokesman said the Australian government was “always ready to speak constructively directly about Australia’s relationship with China, including our differences, and to speak directly between our political leaders.”
Morrison admitted this week that managing the relationship with China was “a very difficult subject.”
Traveling to Tokyo this week to reach a broad agreement on a new defense pact, the prime minister said Australia and Japan did not see China as a strategic competitor, a perspective that differs from that of their key security ally, the United States. .
But the joint statement issued by Morrison and his Japanese counterpart, Yoshihide Suga, raised “serious concerns” about China’s actions in the South China Sea and “serious concerns” about the deterioration of the situation in Hong Kong.
They also stated that “trade should never be used as a tool for political pressure” because such actions undermine confidence and prosperity.
Later, addressing a Business Council of Australia event via video link, Morrison said his government “had always been interested in a productive, open, respectful and mutually beneficial partnership” with China, but that tensions seemed to be on ” based on Australia being just Australia. “
He said that while his government had always been willing to have a meeting or pick up the phone, “it was not prepared to agree to a meeting on the condition that Australia would compromise and exchange any of those things that were frankly listed on that non-list. official”. of grievances ”.
Australia continued to speak out on human rights this week, joining its counterparts in the Five Eyes alliance – the UK, the US, New Zealand and Canada – in saying that the disqualification of pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong appeared to be “ part of a concerted campaign to silence all critical voices ”.
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