DFAT Secretary: Beijing Cannot ‘Escape Scrutiny or Debate’

DFAT Secretary: Beijing Cannot ‘Escape Scrutiny or Debate’
People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers take part in a performance during an open day at Stonecutters Island naval base in Hong Kong, on June 30, 2019. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)
Caden Pearson

Australia’s most senior diplomat from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has said that the Chinese regime is “mistaken” if it thinks it can set the terms of China’s future engagement with the world.

DFAT Secretary Frances Adamson noted that while the world focused on dealing with China’s growing power, it forgot that the Communist Party ruling China was also carefully considering how other countries were reacting to its international conduct.

“China may have reached a point where it believes that it can largely set the terms of its future engagement with the world,” she told an audience at Australian National University’s National Security College on Nov. 25. “If it has, I believe it is mistaken.”

“No power this large and globally integrated can escape scrutiny or debate,” Adamson said about the country which has become the largest trading partner for many countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

Adamson argued that China would have much more to gain if it worked constructively and collaboratively within the international rules-based system, without resorting to “pressure or coercion.”

“The future of our region depends in part on China’s decisions, but it also depends on the decisions made by other countries in the Indo-Pacific, including the United States and other regional partners,” Adamson said.

The shifting of power dynamics in the region makes Australia’s task, set out in the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, more complicated—that Australia’s “interests lie in stability and in the character of the enduring peace we seek.”

Adamson’s speech comes days after U.S. Ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse Jr. criticised the Chinese embassy in Canberra for deliberately “leaking” a dossier of grievances against the federal government to the mainstream media.

“You would never see a US embassy hand such a list to a reporter in Australia,” he said.

“That list reflects instances of the government of Australia standing up for its own interest and furthering the national interest of Australia,” he said.

Australia has taken a tougher stance on Beijing’s influence and infiltration activities in the country in recent years, pushing a range of initiatives including government inquiries, new legislation, and a sharpened foreign policy to protect the nation’s interests in the Indo-Pacific.

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