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16 March 2022

With Grant Wyeth

China’s ambassador


Last week, Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, met with the new Chinese ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian. It was the first high-level contact between the two governments in years. No substantive changes came from this initial encounter – yet, in the often slow and cautious world of diplomacy, the meeting may indicate a page turning on the poor relations between the two countries.  

As China’s former ambassador to Hungary and most recently its ambassador to Indonesia, Xiao comes to Australia with over three decades of diplomatic experience. He has also held several senior diplomatic posts in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the Director-General of the Department of Asian Affairs. His appointment as ambassador to Australia indicates that Beijing sees Canberra as a diplomatic post worthy of serious investment. 

Unlike some of his colleagues in recent years, Xiao has not adopted an aggressive and undiplomatic style but has remained professional and restrained in his public comments. By appointing him to this role, Beijing may be recognising its combative posture has been unsuccessful in forging the kind of submissive relationship it wants from Canberra. Instead, Beijing could be reverting to the traditional, more sophisticated, art of diplomacy. 

This might also better serve Beijing’s interests in the new world created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moscow has strengthened cooperation among Western democracies and renewed their commitment to their values. This show of Western solidarity may be raising concerns in China that its diplomatic belligerence is also likely to be counterproductive.  

Working with Indonesia 

On Friday, Foreign Minister Marise Payne will co-chair the inaugural Southeast Asia Dialogue of Women Leaders. The forum is a joint initiative of Payne’s with the Indonesian foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, and is designed to bring together women leaders in politics, business and civil society from throughout the region. The discussions will seek solutions to the disproportionate health, social and economic effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on women and girls. 

This new dialogue recognises that individual insecurity undermines national security. The pandemic has exposed this by placing considerable stresses not only on individual lives but also on vital state resources. Investing in human security – the freedom from fear, want and indignity – is complementary to traditional investment in hard security, especially for Australia’s relationships with South-East Asia. The region is reluctant to get drawn into great power politics, which can often dominate Australia’s security thinking. Australia needs to engage with South-East Asia on its own merits, not through the lens of strategic competition with China. 

More broadly, the dialogue demonstrates the continued habits of cooperation between Australia and Indonesia. It’s a positive sign that the two countries are seeking new initiatives to deepen their relationship, as well as taking leadership of issues of critical importance to South-East Asia. It’s also a strong signal that Australia sees South-East Asia as its own neighbourhood and is willing to invest considerable time and effort in the region. 

South Korean president

South Korea has a new president-elect after Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party won a tight contest against Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party. South Korean presidents serve only a single five-year term, therefore incumbent Moon Jae-in, from the Democratic Party, was not up for re-election. Yoon will take office on 10 May. 

Yoon’s presidency offers to be distinct from his predecessor – he is seeking to take a tougher position on North Korea, be less deferential to China, become more enthusiastic about Seoul’s security relationship with the United States, and recognise the importance of a more cooperative partnership with Japan. 

Like Australia, South Korea has been subject to economic coercion from China, with restrictions placed on South Korean imports and the discouragement of Chinese tourism. Yoon has claimed Beijing’s tactics have been successful. In response, South Korea has halted the further deployment of the US-manufactured Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. THAAD was designed to defend against North Korean missiles, but China views it as having the potential to limit the effectiveness of its own nuclear deterrent. Yoon has stated that giving in to Chinese demands undermined South Korea’s right to protect its people. 

For Australia, the hope is that Yoon continues to enhance the two countries’ trading and security relationship. During President Moon’s visit to Australia in December 2021, the two countries signed a billion-dollar agreement for Australia to purchase long-range artillery and fifteen armoured vehicles from defence manufacturer Hanwha. Furthermore, South Korea is Australia’s fourth-largest trading partner, and Seoul is looking to Australia to diversify its sources of the critical minerals used in high-end manufacturing away from China.


From the AFA14 DEEP DIVE

A free article from AFA “Top five moments that shaped modern Taiwan–China ties” by Linda Jakobson

“1. 1949 – ROC’s retreat to Taiwan

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is founded by the victors of the Chinese civil war, the Chinese Communist Party, while the defeated party, the Kuomintang (KMT), evacuates to Taiwan and moves the capital of the Republic of China (ROC) to Taipei. The United Nations recognises the ROC as the sole legitimate representative of China, internationally isolating the PRC for the next twenty-two years.”CONTINUE READING

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Weekly round-up

Common enemies and instinctive friends

“The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. Likewise, there may not be an instinctive alignment of my two adversaries. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s reference to ‘arc of autocracy’ and the ‘instinctive’ alignment between Russia and China in the address at the Lowy Institute was a case of this fallacious thinking.” Yun Jiang, The Interpreter (Lowy Institute)

China is squirming under pressure to condemn Russia. It can’t hold out forever

“Beijing simultaneously wants to preserve its partnership with Moscow, stand by its longstanding policy of territorial integrity and non-interference in other states, and avoid being collateral damage in the war.” Richard McGregor, The Guardian

Urgent need for radical thinking on Australia’s defence

“The bipartisan defence policy plans of Albanese and Prime Minister Scott Morrison must be completely rethought. One can have too much bipartisanship. On defence, it produces a type of timid complacency.” Peter Jennings, The Strategist (ASPI)

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Has Australia lost its way on women, peace and security?

“Australia is routinely heralded as a global leader on the United Nations Security Council’s Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. Yet, in the year since the release of Australia’s second National Action Plan on the agenda, its impact remains unclear.” Katrina Lee-Koo, Australian Outlook (AIIA)

Oil price surge will hit South Asia hard

“All eight South Asian countries are net oil importers, making them vulnerable to the massive surge in global oil prices spawned by sanctions against Russia. This surge could hit South Asian economies especially hard because of pre-existing pandemic-induced shocks and skyrocketing inflation.” Michael Kugelman, Foreign Policy [$]

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