SO Julie Bishop has a Huawei-donated iPad. Dangerous. Dangerous for her and dangerous for Australia if she becomes foreign minister.
The iPad is but one of the micro details to emerge from Bishop’s visit to China as a guest of the Chinese telco. Some Liberals led by Bishop, together with vested mining interests, questioned the Gillard government accepting ASIO’s advice against letting Huawei bid for NBN. But the bar has wider significance because the controversy it has sparked illuminates the most vexing issue of Australian foreign policy – our relationship with China.
This was again in sharp relief at the recent Boao Forum, on the luxury resort on Hainan Island.
West Australian mining billionaires Andrew Forrest and Gina Rinehart were there.
Forrest complained the Huawei decision was indicative of the insufficient sympathy for Beijing and that Australia’s foreign policy should reflect our commercial relationship with China.
This is not the first time West Australian mining magnates have sought to stamp “Made in China” on Australia’s foreign policy.
The day after President Barack Obama’s long-awaited visit to Australia, one of Forrest’s Boao buddies “Iron” Mike Young dismissed the visit on the front page of the Australian Financial Review.
Former Liberal senate leader Nick Minchin backed ASIO’s advice. Former foreign minister Alexander Downer told the ABC that Huawei was a “victim of Sinophobia”.
Liberal finance spokesman Andrew Robb, along with Bishop and Bronwyn Bishop, all criticised the government for following the security advice. All have recently been guests of Huawei in China.
Bishop and Downer really should know better. Fortunately, some Liberals do know better.
Senator George Brandis, the shadow attorney-general, was briefed by ASIO and eventually Tony Abbott overruled Robb and the two Bishops.
However it seems that the tribune of mining magnates, Julie Bishop, is not done.
After being silenced she arguably took the pro-Beijing line further. She was quoted in The Australian newspaper saying “confusion about the Labor government’s attitudes towards China was increased significantly by the 2009 Defence White paper that implied China posed a direct conventional military threat to Australia”. The Liberal’s official policy is to support the 2009 Defence White Paper!
Christopher Pyne may have known more when he addressed the Henry Jackson society in London, of which I am a patron.
Pyne made a robust critique of Chinese foreign policy in what many considered a below-the-radar chastising of Bishop.
I’m sorry to sound like an unreconstructed cold warrior, but I have to ask: Has anyone told Bishop the real nature of the Beijing regime? China’s political system represents an amalgam of the traditional Confucian paternalism and the police apparatus of the Soviet Union.
Despite 30 years of economic reform, China is ruled by an interlocking alliance of party, state, military and business elites. While it is true that Beijing has brought hundreds of millions of people up from poverty, China is still run by a regime whose main priority is the preservation of its own power.
The fall of Bo Xilai, the powerful and ambitious Party chief in Chongqing, only underlines the corruption and brutality of China’s leadership – whether in subterranean struggles between relative liberals or in the annual execution of more than 3000 people or the maintenance of China’s vast labour camp system.
For strategic and economic reasons, Beijing supports and protects authoritarian regimes such as North Korea, Burma, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. It also uses its veto at the UN Security Council to block efforts to avert war.
The Huawei episode also highlights the widespread concerns about China’s role in cyber-espionage, both military and commercial.
These concerns first arose more than a decade ago, with particular emphasis on China’s infiltration of the private sector, including blatant intellectual property theft. Last year Mike Rogers, chairman of the US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said: “When you talk to companies behind closed doors, they describe attacks that originate in China, and have a level of sophistication and are clearly supported by a level of resources that can only be a nation-state entity.”
In these circumstances it was always likely that the US would see Huawei for what it is – an extension of the Chinese communist regime – and bar entry to America’s more sensitive telecommunications networks.
The new American foreign policy doctrine, with its “pivot to Asia”, enunciated by Barack Obama in his speech to federal parliament last year, has predictably made our largest trading partner quick to jump at imagined slights.
Dr John Lee notes the foolishness of any appeasement that is counter to our national security interests.
“Everyone agrees that the alliance with the Americans is the bedrock of Australian security,” he said. Bishop’s free iPad goes to more than just security concerns over her use of that device. Her views on Huawei, and by extension the Chinese government, show a serious deficit in foreign policy and security thinking.
It’s quite understandable that the mining billionaires Clive Palmer, Andrew Forrest and Gina Rinehart, who fund the Liberal Party to which she belongs, don’t want Australia to do anything that might upset their largest customer.
But someone who aspires to be Australia’s foreign minister has to think about our national interest, not just the commercial interest of her party’s paymasters.
If you press Malcolm Turnbull he argues very differently from Pyne and the traditional Liberal anti-communist perspective.
Sounding a bit like a latter day Lord Runciman, Turnbull insisted in a speech given last October at the London School of Economics and Political Science that China’s naval build up was not a sign of “a new belligerence”.
China, he argued, was not like the Soviet Union “and does not seek to export its ideology or system of government”.
Like his former loyal deputy Julie Bishop, Turnbull stated:
“I disagree with the underlying premise of the 2009 Australian White Paper that we should base our defence planning and procurement on the contingency of a naval war with China in the South China Sea.”
He, like paleo-conservative editor of the Spectator Tom Switzer and Switzer’s bizarre anti-American columnist Mark Latham, all think the relationship with the US has gone too far.
This Sydney consensus reaction to China/US tensions is very similar to the West Australian mining oligarchs and the arguments of the chief academic advocate of accommodating China, Hugh White.
A formidable coalition critical of the traditional US/Australia alliance and keen on accommodating Beijing is forming. Surprisingly, it is mainly forming on the political right.
Michael Danby is chair of the US/Australia Parliamentary Friendship Group