Stokes lashes Canberra over China policy
Stokes lashes Canberra over China policy

Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes has strongly criticised both sides of Australian politics for showing insufficient respect to China.

Declaring that Australia should have aimed to be the "Switzerland" of South-East Asia, Mr Stokes said he was "physically repulsed" by the presence of armed US troops in northern Australia.

And Mr Stokes, whose company owns The West Australian, said Australia must set about making it easier for Chinese students and tourists to come to Australia.

Speaking to a Sydney conference on Australia in "China's Century" this morning, he paid tribute to former prime ministers Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard for understanding and developing the China-Australian relationship.

But he said a lack of mutual respect had marred the relationship in recent times, to the extent that many Chinese believed Australia was "unfriendly".

He cited the Defence White Paper and the decision to allow US troops in northern Australia, comments made by Australian politicians in China and the recent debate about foreign investment as having damaged the relationship.

"We need to look at it from Chinese eyes and if you're one of the educated, young Chinese working in China and you see Australia has a policy which says China could be our enemy in a period of time and we've got to plan for the fact that we may have to have some confrontation and after that we join forces with the Americans and put troops in Australia," he said.

"We give the impression that we have joined sides. We never had to join sides. China always accepted our relationship with America and I think what we've done of late with the White Paper and allowing troops in Australia has just aggravated what was something that was accepted before and made more vulnerable."

The first group of 250 US Marines arrived in Darwin in April as part of a reconfiguration of American military in South-East Asia.

About 2500 Marines will train in the Northern Territory by 2016-17 under the gradual build-up.

US President Barack Obama said last year that the troops would be complemented by the increased presence of aircraft and ships.

"Australia should have been the Switzerland of our region," Mr Stokes. "We still could have had our relationship with defence, with America, because no-one objected to that but it's when we actually escalate those as we've done in recent times that people are confused by it.

"And if you want to be a Switzerland, you can't have other people's armed forces in your borders, in your boundaries. Full stop.

"Apart from China, I must be the only Australian in Australia that is physically repulsed by the thought of armed people on my soil not being under our command. Maybe that's just me. That's my personal view."

Mr Stokes criticised Australian politicians who went to China to lecture about human rights and democracy. He said mutual respect had not been displayed in recent times.

"We've confused China in one way with our policies," he said.

"Everybody talks about the Chinese system. We've had politicians go and say you should change to democracy. I employ 3000 people in China. People who work for me love their country, love the system they've got. They don't want change.

"The questions they put to me are, 'How come you want us to change when only 30 per cent of the people in your country want your Government?'. Now that's a real tough one."

In 2008, Kevin Rudd lectured the Chinese on human rights during his first visit to China as Prime Minister.

And in July, during a three-day visit to China, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott gave a speech saying China would become more prosperous if it embraced democracy and greater legal freedoms.

"In the long term, China should prosper even more if its people enjoyed freedom under the law and the right to choose a government, despite the difficulty of managing this transition in a country with a tumultuous history," Mr Abbott said on July 24.

On foreign investment, Mr Stokes said capital was China's greatest export and Australia should grab the opportunity.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Bob Carr told the conference that Australia should resist the temptation to fall back on "narrow, nationalistic sloganeering when it comes to Chinese investment in Australia".

"The fact is, foreign direct investment from China equated to just 2.6 per cent of the total FDI stock in 2011."
He said the top four source countries for foreign investment in Australia were the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and the Netherlands.

And the European Union, as a region, remained Australia's largest source of foreign investment, accounting for almost 34 per cent, Senator Carr said.

"As my predecessor Alexander Downer wrote in the Adelaide Advertiser this week, 'Asian money is just as good as US or British money'."

Australia is China's biggest supplier of iron ore, its second biggest supplier of coal and its third biggest supplier of liquefied natural gas.

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Compare & Save

More from The West