Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said Australia must not be naive to an olive branch held out by Beijing’s new ambassador, warning there must remain a number of non-negotiables in the relationship.
Xiao Qian, who recently served as China’s ambassador to Indonesia, arrived in Sydney last week and issued a public statement that relations between Canberra and Beijing were at a “critical moment”. He said the relationship faced many “difficulties and challenges” as well as “enormous opportunities and potentials”.
Xiao said he wanted to clear up misunderstandings and suspicions in the relationship and put China-Australia relations back on track.
Speaking on Sky News Australia on Sunday, Mr Joyce said he welcomed any approach from China that wanted to “tamp things down a bit”.
But he said that would always be balanced by Beijing’s actions such as economic coercion, assertiveness in the South China Sea, media freedom in Hong Kong and human rights issues such as the treatment of tennis star Peng Shuai. The welfare of Peng, a Wimbledon doubles champion and former world No. 14 in singles, has been of concern for weeks after she alleged that a former Chinese vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, sexually assaulted her. .
“Yes, I want there to be peace, but I will do it with my eyes wide open and making sure we have a harmonious relationship,” Mr Joyce said. “But not in a framework of naivety.”
The government has stepped up its attacks on Labor over its past statements on relations with China, increasing pressure on opposition leader Anthony Albanese to explain how he would handle relations differently.
Labor has faced internal pressure over how to deal with China, with outspoken party elders Paul Keating and Bob Carr fiercely criticizing the federal government’s approach to Beijing.
Mr Joyce said Mr Albanese should call on China to remove the more than $20 billion in tariffs imposed in response to various Australian measures, including the call for a global inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 and the banning of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from its 5G rollout.