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Former PM Warns that Agreeing to Meet With Xi Signals Weakness

Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned Anthony Albanese against accepting an invitation to visit Beijing saying it will look like the Australian government is kowtowing to the Chinese authorities.

The warning comes after Mr. Albanese accepted an invitation from Chinese leader Xi Jinping to visit China before the end of the year.

During a Coalition party meeting on Sept. 5, Mr. Morrison told members that the Albanese government’s “acquiescent and concessional approach” towards Beijing, particularly the government’s “keenness” in restoring relations, was concerning,

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“He was warning us about [Chinese leader] Xi and his regime—urging us to hold the line and not follow Labor’s approach,” one opposition MP who listened to Mr. Morrison’s speech told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

“Scott told us he continued to be proud at how his government stood up to China and that other countries followed our lead.”

Yet on Sept. 8, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said it was a “good thing” and “appropriate” that the prime minister accepted the invitation to China, as he would be able to address other issues with Mr. Xi.”

“He’ll be able to raise the human rights issues, the Australians that are still held there,” Mr. Dutton said.

Currently, Australian journalists Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun are detained in China for alleged spying and espionage charges.

Confirmation of Mr. Albanese’s China visit came during a sideline meeting at the East Asia Summit in Jakarta between Mr. Albanese and Beijing’s Premier Li Qiang on Sept. 7.

Mr. Albanese said he raised the issue of Australians arrested in China, including three who have been sentenced to death.

“We will always make representation for Australians who have been given the death sentence for that to be removed,” Mr. Albanese said.

Plan to Resolve Trade Disputes

Despite Beijing lifting trade tariffs on Australian barley, other trade sanctions remain on other Australian goods, such as wine and lobster.

Mr. Dutton said the opposition also wanted to see a strong trading relationship with Beijing, despite the differences in the countries’ values.

Trade sanctions against Australian goods have caused more than $20 billion (US$12.8 billion) in lost trade to China, following the then-prime minister’s push for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

“[Prime Minister Albanese] obviously believes he can get some way in relation to the relief around the tariffs that have been imposed,” Mr. Dutton said.

Mr. Albanese said officials are continuing to work to resolve trade sanctions on Australian wine.

“That essentially is how the barley issue was resolved in the interest of both of our countries,” he said.

“It was acknowledged that we have an interest in working these issues through.

“The cooperation and engagement between our two countries has always improved when there is a dialogue, when there is discussion—that is how you get mutual agreement, mutual respect and advance the interests of both our nations.”

The former PM Morrison also commented on the growing relationship between China and Russia.

“His comments on Russia were made with reference to the contemporary actions of Chinese banks in supporting the Russian economy, effectively undermining Western sanctions,” one Liberal MP said, reported the ABC.

Mr. Morrison is expected to visit Taiwan in October at the Yushan Forum, two years after former PM Tony Abbott described Beijing as a “bully.”

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