Former prime minister Kevin Rudd says he is “puzzled” by the Morrison government’s insistence on pushing China’s buttons as relations continue to deteriorate.
Mr Rudd, the president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, told Yahoo Finance’s 2020 All Markets Summit on Thursday while Australia is not alone with its troubles with Beijing, Canberra’s robust approach makes Australia an easy target.
“What I find puzzling is the Australian Government's predisposition to take out the megaphone in every conceivable opportunity to take the existing structural difficulties in the Australia-China relationship and magnify them even further,” he said.
Mr Rudd said Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, needs to tread more carefully in his approach in handling China.
“Simon has tried to run a very large, loud and declaratory strategy against Beijing, almost falling for a fight every second day of the week,” he said.
He said the government needs a “firm and robust prosecution of our interests and values” which still leaves space to “cooperate with China, when it's in our interest in their interest to do so.”
Mr Rudd listed key aspects the government needs to remember to allow Australia to cooperate with China.
He said it was vital the government let Beijing know “who we are”.
“Be very frank with the Chinese about those areas... Australia's fundamental belief in universal values such as human rights and democracy,” he said.
That involves stressing the relationship Australia has with the US.
“It's been around for 100 years. And we need to be clear with the Chinese that's not about to change however much pressure they may apply.”
Australia’s relationship with China has rapidly deteriorated following Scott Morrison’s decision to call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.
A tit-for-tat relationship spat has since ensued, with China targeting Australian exports in what has been perceived as a punishment for Canberra’s vocal position on China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘It pays to hunt in packs,’ Rudd says
Mr Rudd said it was wrong for Mr Morrison to lead calls for an investigation, which China openly lambasted, and said differed from calls from other nations in the shape of a World Health Organisation-led inquiry.
“It's far better to do so in partnership with other governments, rather than simply to announce it yourself,” he said.
He said the call could have come in partnership with a host of countries including France, Germany, the UK, Japan, India and Canada.
"It pays to hunt in packs... It's much harder for China then to single you out."
“I don't think we have reacted in a way that advances our interests at all,” he told ABC News.
“We have to be smart, agile and clever. We have engaged in a tit-for-tat retaliation with China, which in many ways is self-defeating.”
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