Guardian (Aus Ed):
Morrison urged to confront Trump over concerns US-China trade deal is hurting Australia
Labor’s Penny Wong says PM should ‘pick up the phone’ to US president, and Mike Pompeo warns Victoria over cooperation in China’s Belt and Road project
Labor’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Penny Wong, said Australia’s focus should turn to resolving the dispute with China over its handling of coronavirus
Photograph: David Mariuz/AAP
Labor has called on Scott Morrison to pick up the phone to Donald Trump to pursue concerns the US president’s trade deal with China is hurting Australian farmers and exporters.
The push comes as Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, urges the Victorian state government to tread carefully before it embraces potential projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Both issues are a sign of potential pressure points in Australia’s relationship with the United States, at a time when most of the focus has been on trade and diplomatic tensions with Beijing.
Over the past couple of weeks, Beijing has imposed tariffs of around 80% on Australian barley imports, suspended beef imports from four abattoirs on technical grounds, and raised the possibility of further trade-related measures.
China railed against Australia for the Morrison government’s early and vocal calls for an independent inquiry into the origins and handling of coronavirus – a watered-down version of which won broad support at last week’s World Health Assembly, including from Beijing.
Labor’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Penny Wong, said it would have been better for the government to have followed “the usual diplomatic practice” of trying to secure support from other countries before publicly announcing the inquiry push.
But in an interview with the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, she said the focus should turn to resolving the dispute with China – along with ensuring that Australia’s interests were not undermined by the recent trade deal between Trump and Xi Jinping, the Chinese president.
“Scott Morrison is always very keen to tell us when he has spoken to President Trump,” Wong said.
“Well, I think it is time for him to pick up the phone and speak to him now and ensure that the US-China trade deal does not come at the expense of Australian exporters and Australian jobs.
“I do not accept that the government can simply ignore the effect of the US-China trade deal.”
In January, China pledged to buy an extra $US200bn of American farm products and other goods and services over two years as part of a “phase one” agreement between Trump and Xi.
China announced this month that it would immediately allow barley imports from the US – which came at a time when Australian barley exporters were trying to prevent the steep new tariffs being imposed.
In the interview on Sunday, Wong also warned the Coalition’s outspoken China hawks that talking tough was not the same as being tough when it came to Australia’s relationship with Beijing.
“Now, the escalation of anti-China rhetoric and potentially anti-Chinese sentiment … isn’t good for the Australian community, and I don’t think it does well for our standing in the world,” she said.
Wong said Australia should take a longer-term perspective on relations with China, while also acting to protect its national interest and hold to its values regardless of the potential reaction.
But she was concerned there was so much focus on the bilateral relationship with China that it was diverting attention from a range of other important foreign policy issuing, including how should Australia navigate the post-Covid-19 world.
Wong noted the pandemic was fracturing the global economy, unravelling the rules-based order, and hardening strategic competition between the US and China.
On the latter front, Pompeo waded into Australian domestic politics on Sunday by emphasising the potential risks of cooperation between Victoria and Beijing under Xi’s signature program, the Belt and Road Initiative.
Pompeo also issued a vague warning that some communication channels between Australia and the US may be put at risk – even though no projects have been locked in yet.
The Victorian state government has attracted domestic political scrutiny for signing an agreement with Beijing allowing for cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, but that deal is still in its early stages with no projects agreed.
The state government has promised to “consider both Victoria’s and the national interest before agreeing to any specific activity”.
In an interview with Sky News Australia, Pompeo urged Victoria to scrutinise any proposals “incredibly closely” because Belt and Road projects could “build up the capacity of the Chinese Communist party to do harm”.
Pompeo said every nation had a sovereign right to make decisions for itself and Victoria also had “some rights” but he added that any Belt and Road projects needed to be looked at closely.
He said the US would “not take any risk to our telecommunications infrastructure, any risk to the national security elements of what we need to do with our Five Eyes partners”.
“We’re going to protect and preserve the security of those institutions, so I don’t know the nature of those projects precisely, but to the extent they have an adverse impact on our ability to protect telecommunications from our private citizens, or security networks for our defence and intelligence communities, we will simply disconnect, we will simply separate,” he told Sky’s Outsiders program.
“We’re going to preserve trust in networks for important information. We hope our friends and partners and allies across the world, especially our Five Eyes partners like Australia, will do the same.”
There is no mention of telecommunications-related projects in the framework agreement, signed last year, between the Victorian government and China’s National Development and Reform Commission.
And the federal government has already moved to ban the Chinese-owned Huawei and ZTE from Australia’s 5G network in response to security advice – a decision, made in 2018, that Beijing still cites as a source on ongoing diplomatic tension.
A Victorian government spokesperson said the state had not, and would not in the future, agree to telecommunications projects under the Belt and Road Initiative – and noted that telecommunications regulation was a federal responsibility.
The spokesperson said the Belt and Road framework agreement was “about creating opportunities for Victorian businesses and local jobs – opportunities that will be more important than ever as we rebuild from the coronavirus pandemic”.