Labor’s spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong has said the federal government is undermining Australia’s relationship with China by utilising unnecessary war rhetoric to score domestic political points.
Speaking at a book launch in Canberra, Wong said she is concerned that Scott Morrison “does not fully comprehend” Australia’s interests in relation to China and that “he doesn’t even seek to”.
“It’s always about the domestic political advantage — either in the internal fights within the Liberal Party in pandering to the far right, or in seeking to pursue some partisan advantage over the Labor Party,” she said.
Wong said Morrison’s “political opportunism on foreign policy” was unprecedented in Australia’s political history, and that is undermining the safety of Australians.
Wong’s words this week come off the back of Defence Minister Peter Dutton’s recent comments that conflict with China over Taiwan could not be discounted, and Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo saying free nations are hearing “the beating drums” of war.
“Today, as free nations again hear the beating drums and watch worryingly the militarisation of issues that we had, until recent years, thought unlikely to be catalysts for war, let us continue to search unceasingly for the chance for peace while bracing again, yet again, for the curse of war,” Pezzullo said on Anzac Day.
Wong said it is time “we call the Prime Minister out”.
“Two of the people most responsible for keeping Australians safe are instead talking tough for political purposes, and in doing so they are playing directly into the CPC’s narrative and providing Beijing with the leverage that comes with a sense of inevitability about crisis, conflict and war,” she said.
“We are not made safer by our leaders beating the drums of war,” she said. “We have many enduring differences with President Xi’s China, they are not made easier to manage by an escalation of rhetoric for domestic political purposes.”
“It would take childlike naivety to think these interventions were a coincidence, or to think the Morrison government isn’t deliberately encouraging anxiety about conflict. But it would represent a monumental and catastrophic failure of leadership to see that anxiety realised.”
In her speech, Wong also noted Morrison’s recent gaffe when commenting on Taiwan, when he incorrectly claimed Australia’s position was “One Country – Two Systems”, which is a reference to China’s approach to Hong Kong.
“When pressed on this, rather than admitting he got it wrong, he doubled down and covered up the mistake with a lie,” Wong said.
Under Morrison’s leadership, Australia’s relationship with China has hit some hurdles, with ties becoming strained after Australia called for an independent global investigation into the origins of COVID-19. Beijing has imposed several trade barriers on local Australian exports.
“Foreign policy should not be the prosecution of domestic politics by other means because, as I’ve said, in diplomacy words matter,” Wong said.