Monday, November 25, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

China syndrome
As concerns escalate, the PM needs to step up


Australia’s relationship with China is being re-evaluated at breakneck speed following allegations that a Chinese espionage ring tried to install an agent for Beijing in federal parliament, and the defection of Chinese spy Wang Liqiang, who is offering inside intelligence on how China conducts its interference operations. Those revelations come as Hong Kong voters deliver a victory for pro-democracy campaigners, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and its worldwide media partners publish a leaked cache of documents showing the dystopian world of surveillance, detention and re-education of Xinjiang’s Muslims. At a press conference today, Scott Morrison sought to reassure Australians that the government was taking the “deeply disturbing and troubling” allegations seriously, and defended the “world-class” legal framework in place to protect the country from foreign interference. He will need to do more than that.

The prime minister spoke to US President Donald Trump this morning about the prospect of a major trade deal between the US and China before the end of the year, but Morrison would not confirm whether they spoke about revelations of Chinese interference in Australia, and the potential defection of a Chinese spy. “I don’t go into my private conversations with the president,” the PM said this afternoon. But Morrison channelled Trump, talking about how good Australia’s legal protections are: “When I speak to other leaders, they look at our laws and they say, ‘We want more of what they are having,’ when it comes to protecting their countries.”

Of course, the prime minister did not respond to questions about the alleged plot to install Bo Zhao as an agent for Beijing in parliament, claims that are subject to an investigation by ASIO. Nor would he confirm whether Wang Liqiang would be given asylum, leaving it up to the immigration authorities. As things stand, however, Australians are being deluged with alarming and seemingly credible reports on China’s intentions, as senior intelligence analyst Paul Monk, former head of China analysis with the Department of Defence, said on ABC Radio today. With all the goodwill in the world it is not enough for the PM to say, “I can assure Australians our government will never be lacking on the watch when it comes to protecting Australia’s legitimate interests.” Leaving the media running to former soldier Andrew Hastie, chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, is guaranteed to fan the flames.

It does not help that in the middle of Australia’s drought, China appears to be going on a buying spree in Australia’s dairy industry, with Mengniu Dairy today reaching a $600 million deal to acquire Lion’s Australian drink brands, barely a week after buying Bellamy’s Organic, a producer of infant formula, for $1.5 billion. Pauline Hanson slammed the news today, and last week Jacqui Lambie complained that “we roll over like a dog” when it comes to approving foreign investment.

On the 7am podcast this morning, Nine Media political and international editor Peter Hartcher, author of the Quarterly Essay Red Flag, shed light on the rise to power of strongman Chinese president Xi Jinping, and how badly Australians, including former prime minister Kevin Rudd, had misjudged him. As a young “red princeling”, Xi, along with his family, fell victim to Chairman Mao’s murderous Cultural Revolution. Instead of rejecting totalitarianism, Xi has chosen to embrace it.

Concern about China’s intentions cannot continue to escalate indefinitely without serious repercussions, at home and abroad. It is time for the prime minister to take charge of the debate.

“I have spoken to Jacqui, and she is not supporting a repeal of the legislation, she is considering amending the legislation. I don’t know the details of what she is proposing and I understand she is talking with the government, but it is my understanding that she is not seeking to repeal that bill.”

Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick tells Sky News Australia that independent senator Jacqui Lambie, who has a loose alliance with his party, is likely to support amending but not repealing the medevac laws.

“The Ensuring Integrity Bill is designed to bring rogue unions to heel, especially those that add risk and extra costs to projects in the construction sector, including public infrastructure building, but the legislation is even-handed, covering employer organisations and unions.”

The Australian’s editorial endorses the government’s union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill, as One Nation senator Pauline Hanson – whose vote will be crucial – signals she may not support the legislation.

The red princeling
Xi Jinping’s ambitions for China are paranoid and expansionist. His mindset mirrors that of the guerrilla fighters in the Chinese Civil War. Peter Hartcher on how understanding this history helps in understanding Australia’s relationship with China now.

The vote by which the government rejected a motion to force Energy Minister Angus Taylor to explain how he did not mislead parliament when he claimed that fake City of Sydney travel documents provided to The Daily Telegraph came directly from the council’s website.

“We will deliver a $537 million funding package to respond to the Interim Report, across the identified three priority areas, including; investing $496.3 million for an additional 10,000 home care packages; providing $25.5 million to improve medication management programs to reduce the use of medication as a chemical restraint on aged care residents and at home, and new restrictions and education for prescribers on the use of medication as a chemical restraint; delivering $10 million for additional dementia training and support for aged care workers and providers, including to reduce the use of chemical restraint; and investing $4.7 million to help meet new targets to remove younger people with disabilities from residential aged care.”

Scott Morrison responds to the interim report of the aged care royal commission, released at the end of October.

The list

“Three decades after he represented the Soviet Union as a hurdler, Andrey Alexeenko retains the wiry frame of a track athlete … As Alexeenko shows off his big yellow submarine, he points out where its refit has been particularly painful or expensive – not in complaint, but as points of interest. Nearly two years after he found a suitable shell and brought it to this Brisbane shipyard, his customisations are almost complete. This will be the first commercial submarine operating in Australia.”

“Both on and off the record, China watchers mostly agreed on one point – Keating’s take on China was a little disappointing. They say the idea that, simply by engaging with China, the country will naturally open up and gradually shift to a democratic and civil society is now proving outdated.”

“What is distinctive and objectionable about China’s efforts to gain international influence? What are its methods and objectives? And how can Australia retain its character as an open, multicultural democracy while pushing back against a rising authoritarian superpower that is the source of so many of its migrants and one in every three of its export dollars? The world will soon find out.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


The Monthly Today

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building

Composite image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison (image via Facebook) and Industry Minister Christian Porter (image via Sky News).

The standard you walk past

Ministerial standards breach or no, there is something deeply wrong with the government’s principles

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing the new AUKUS partnership alongside UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden (not pictured). Image via ABC News

Whatever it takes

Scott Morrison says we will spend whatever we have to on defence. Why doesn’t the same apply to climate change?

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former finance minister Mathias Cormann, who is now secretary-general of the OECD. Image via Facebook

The world is watching

The OECD recommends that Australia take action on climate change. Is our government listening?

From the front page

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building

Image of Colson Whitehead's ‘Harlem Shuffle’

‘Harlem Shuffle’ by Colson Whitehead

The author of ‘The Underground Railroad’ offers a disappointingly straightforward neo-noir caper set in the early ’60s

Composite image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison (image via Facebook) and Industry Minister Christian Porter (image via Sky News).

The standard you walk past

Ministerial standards breach or no, there is something deeply wrong with the government’s principles

Image of Paul Kelly

Unfinished business

Every Paul Kelly song so far, from worst to best