The nation Australia must learn from to mend relations with China

Tom Flanagan
·News Reporter
·4-min read

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has advised Australia to take a leaf out of Japan's book when it comes to managing conflict with China, while lashing the Morrison government for cheap political point scoring at the expense of Beijing.

Mr Rudd said Japan, like Australia, has its quarrels with Beijing, some stemming from decades ago, however it had managed to avoid economic repercussions.

"I look at Tokyo and Japan, the Japanese have a bucketload of problems with China. Historically, the war, they have contested territorial claims in the East China Sea and China is still Japan's largest economic partner," he told the ABC's latest episode of The World, which is due to air on Thursday evening.

"Yet still we do not see the Chinese adopting the sort of trade sanctions against Tokyo that China is now adopting towards Australia."

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd addresses the media.
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd says Australia should look to Japan on how to deal with China. Source: AAP

Mr Rudd has been heavily critical of the Morrison government over their handling of Sino-Australian relations, repeatedly condemning its vocal approach to any disagreement it has with Beijing.

"The Australian Government needs to learn to manage its mouth better. It needs to speak less and do more, as far as the Australia-China relationship is concerned, rather than play to its own domestic peanut gallery, thinking that every piece of anti-Chinese rhetoric simply adds up votes for you in a Liberal Party pre-selection," he said.

It follows his September remarks, when he told Yahoo he was puzzled by the government's persistence to amplify grievances.

“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.

In December, Ross B Taylor, the president of the Indonesia Institute, explained Japan, like Indonesia, has managed to "quarantine" areas of disagreement from its trade relationship with China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, chats with Wang Yang, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) during the opening session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, March 5, 2021. Premier Li Keqiang has set a healthy economic growth target and vowed to make this nation self-reliant in technology amid tension with Washington and Europe over trade and human rights. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Xi Jinping and the CPC have hit Australia with a raft of trade sanctions after their "wrong words and deeds". Source: AP

In an opinion piece for The Diplomat, he said it was the federal government's "public approach" that put Australia at a more vulnerable position than the two Asian countries.

"So why can nations such as Japan and Indonesia “walk and chew gum” at the same time by maintaining cordial relations with China whilst confronting Beijing on issues important to their respective governments?" he asked.

"The main difference appears to have been not so much the right to take a strong stance on China, but rather how these differences need to be handled and articulated, with Morrison and his ministers preferring a very public approach."

Mr Rudd and Mr Taylor both argued it was vital for Australia to work together with like-minded countries to provide resistance to Beijing.

US moves to save Australia from Chinese sanctions

This week US President Joe Biden's Indo-Pacific co-ordinator Kurt Campbell told Nine Newspapers Washington would only engage in relationship-saving discussions with China if Beijing agreed to "leave Australia alone".

Mr Rudd suggested such a move was Australia's saviour.

"Thank God, both (Secretary of State Antony) Blinken and (National Security Advisor Jake) Sullivan, I think, are sending that message now to the Chinese."

In response to Mr Campbell's remarks, China echoed Mr Rudd's sentiment that the Morrison government had put their foot in it with their aggressive approach to matters in the past 12 or so months.

"The root cause of the current difficulties in bilateral relations is Australia's wrong words and deeds on issues concerning China's sovereignty, security and development interests, which have undermined the foundation of mutual trust and cooperation between the two countries," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday evening.

"The Australian side knows the ins and outs better than anyone else."

As well as the US, Australia has strengthened its ties with Japan and India following a successful first summit of the Quad members last week.

While a joint statement released by The White House failed to directly mention China, the meeting was used by the leaders of the four nations to discuss the growing threat of Beijing.

"We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion," the statement read.

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