Australia’s former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said Wednesday that the country’s business and higher education sectors need to wake up to “bullying” and threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Turnbull, whose government banned tech giants Huawei and ZTE from Australia’s 5G networks on national security grounds, criticized the nation’s business chiefs and academics after they condemned the Australian government over its relations with Beijing.
Such behavior, the former prime minister said, would only “encourage more bullying from China.”
Turnbull, who was prime minister from 2015 to 2018, said that some parts of the Australian business community have been “pretty shameful” in their response Beijing’s use of trade threats to influence policy.
Addressing a webinar hosted by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), he made reference to comments made in 2018 by the University of Sydney’s Vice Chancellor Michael Spence.
Spence “accused me of ‘Sinophobic blatherings,’” Turnbull recalled. “That was because he has a large number of his foreign students who’ve paid full tuition fees, come from China.”
“We had to gently remind them and make a few points about, well, you know, essentially a little bit of patriotism wouldn’t have gone too far,” he added, without elaborating.
“The greatest leverage China has in the region is money,” he continued, noting that China was Australia’s biggest trading partner, with the export of commodities being a large part of the economic relationship.
“Every now and then, when it suits them, they rattle the cage and threaten trade consequences and sometimes some exports are held up … those threats are made,” he said. “And the Australian business community I have to say to date has been invariably sensitive to this and tends to criticise the Australian government, pretty shameful actually.”
“The one thing the Australian business community and academic community have got to learn, is that if you want to encourage more bullying from China, continue behaving in the way they do, because every time they do that and criticize the Australian government over its China relations, reflexively, Beijing says, ‘Wow, gee that works, that’s terrific—let’s do more of that.’”
Turnbull’s comments come as the Australian government increasingly pushes back against recent aggression by the CCP.
Australia was one of the first countries to call for an investigation into Beijing’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and has suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong over concerns around the new national security law. The country also is standing its ground against an escalating number of economic threats and intimidation from China.
Turnbull said Australia must have confidence in the services and products it sold “and not be bullied because it is, honestly, it is a slippery slope.”
Countries must “not be intimidated by confected outrage” from Beijing, Turnbull said.
Bowen Xiao contributed to this report.