Why China no longer trusts Australia

Last Updated:2018-05-01

By Geoff Raby

Australia's relations with China are under increasing strain and a former Australian ambassador to Beijing has given a brutal explanation of the tension.

He blames mistrust at the top of the Turnbull Government and an aggressive campaign by “the intelligence establishment” for the breakdown in our relationship with China.

Geoff Raby, our envoy to Beijing from 2007 to 2011, believes the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has “politicised itself” and critics of its actions are dismissed as pro-China “panda huggers”.

He argues security bodies have taken management of relations with China out of the hands of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

And he claims there is a rift between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy Liberal Leader and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

“Part of the problem for DFAT is that their minister is not trusted by the Prime Minister,” Mr Raby, now a Beijing-based businessman, has written in a blog.

“A deputy who has survived three leaders does bear watching. The contrast between Howard and Downer could not be starker,” he said, referring to former prime minister John Howard and his foreign minister Alexander Downer.

Mr Raby’s bigger claim is that security agencies — including the Defence Department, Office of National Assessments, ASIO, Australian Secret Intelligence Service and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s International Division — have asserted themselves because “China has successfully challenged the US’s pre-eminence”.

“In response, the security establishment some time ago concluded that the China relationship was too important to trust to DFAT,” he wrote.

“The Foreign Minister’s, and hence her department’s, role in managing this critical relationship has become inconsequential.”

He accuses ASIO of being “the most likely source of the media briefing” that brought down former Labor senator Sam Dastyari, who was exposed as having cautioned a Chinese businessman his phone was being tapped.

And he said ASIO was “politicising itself and in doing so undermines its integrity and independence and so weakens Australia’s security”.

Mr Raby’s comments appeared in the blog Pearls and Irritants run by John Menadue, a former public servant, ambassador to Japan and businessman.

The comments reinforce separate reports of a deterioration in Australia’s relationship with China.

“With China’s rise, the global order has changed and Canberra is having great difficulty coming to grips with this,” Mr Raby wrote.

“The steep deterioration in the bilateral relationship needs to be understood against the background of a rapidly changing geopolitical order and an ideologically pre- conditioned policymaking establishment in Canberra, which is quixotically hoping for the return of the old, US-led order.

“This is now damaging Australia’s interests.”

Mr Raby said promoters of a close relationship with China and “a more constructive and balanced approach to how to respond to China’s rise and the changed international order” were attacked.

They were called “apologists for China, fellow travellers, mercenaries and panda huggers — the last is the most damning”.

“It is intended to stifle legitimate policy discussion and development. The mess that Australia’s China policy is now in attests to this,” he wrote.

Geoff Raby is Chairman and CEO of Geoff Raby & Associates and a former Australian Ambassador to China.

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