Foreign Minister Marise Payne has declared Australia should not let differences with China define an “important” relationship, as the Chinese embassy accuses Liberal MP Andrew Hastie of adopting a “Cold War mentality” after warning its rise could place Australia’s sovereignty and freedoms at risk.  The embassy said the comments by Mr Hastie, the chairman of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, were detrimental to China-Australia relations.  Mr Hastie used a column in Nine newspapers to compare the West’s response to China to that of the French against Nazi Germany.  The response by China’s embassy was swift.

“We strongly deplore the Australian federal MP Andrew Hastie’s rhetoric on ‘China threat’ which lays bare his Cold-War mentality and ideological bias,” the embassy said in a statement.  “History has proven and will continue to prove that China’s peaceful development is an opportunity, not a threat to the world.  “We urge certain Australian politicians to take off their ‘coloured lens’ and view China’s development path in an objective and rational way.  “They should make efforts to promote mutual trust between China and Australia, instead of doing the opposite.”

Senator Payne would not slap down Mr Hastie for his critique and said an Indo-Pacific that was free, open and prosperous was overwhelmingly in the interest of Australia and its partners in the region.  “There are many opportunities for both Australia and China in our bilateral relationship.  It’s an important relationship underpinned by a comprehensive strategic partnership and a free trade agreement which benefits both countries,” Senator Payne said.  “There are differences from time to time but we should not let our relationship be defined by those differences.  We will continue to manage the relationship in Australia’s best interests.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton defended Mr Hastie, saying he was one of the most distinguished members of parliament after serving as an SAS captain.  “Andrew Hastie is somebody who has served with great distinction and it is his right as a backbencher to raise issues that are of concern to him,” Mr Dutton said.  While he refused to comment on Mr Hastie’s opinion piece, Mr Dutton said Australia must ensure all of its partners respected its sovereignty whether it’s in the area of trade negotiations, the allegations of theft of IP or on our university campuses.  We’ll continue to work with countries so people understand the boundaries,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison distanced his government from Mr Hastie’s warning.  The Prime Minister did not reject Mr Hastie’s critique, saying the issues and challenges he had raised were not new.  But Mr Morrison pointed out his colleague, who also chairs the parliamentary joint standing committee on intelligence and security, was not a minister and was therefore free to say what he wanted as a backbench MP.  Mr Morrison said Australia would continue to have a “cooperative arrangement” with China and declared there was more to be gained from the relationship, particularly from a trade perspective.

Mr Hastie said Australia must be clear-eyed about its position in the world as it balanced security and trade interests.  “We are resetting the terms of engagement with China to preserve our sovereignty, security and democratic convictions, as we also reap the benefits of our trade relationship,” he said.  “Right now our greatest vulnerability lies not in our infrastructure, but in our thinking.  If we don’t understand the challenge ahead for our society, in our parliaments, in our universities, in our private enterprises, in our charities, our little platoons, then choices will be made for us.  Our sovereignty, our freedoms, will be diminished.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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