Australia’s major political parties must present a united front and “not cower to bullies” in the face of China’s new-found aggression, former treasurer Joe Hockey says.
Mr Hockey, Australia’s ambassador to the US until earlier this year, made the remarks in a podcast to be released on Friday, in which he describes Beijing’s recent behaviour as “unacceptable”.
On Tuesday, the Chinese Ministry of Education warned students in the country to reconsider studying in Australia, just days after Beijing had issued similar travel warnings to tourists.
On Thursday, Scott Morrison said Australia would “never be intimidated by threats”, accusing China of “coercion”.
“The views of Beijing and the aggression of Beijing towards Australia is unacceptable and it’s so important that that remain a bipartisan position in Australia, that we will not cower to bullies, no matter who it is,’’ Mr Hockey told the Conversations with Future Generations podcast.
“Whether it be the US at its worst, or China or any other country, we do not bow to bullies because they’ll never respect you if you give in to them.” The threat to the lucrative education sector followed the Chinese government’s decision last month to impose an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley exports and ban red-meat exports from four abattoirs.
About one-third of Australia’s farm exports are sold to China.
Tensions between Canberra and Beijing have escalated over the past six weeks amid the Australian government’s push for an international inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic, which started in the city of Wuhan.
Mr Hockey said it was important that Australia continued to make its points clear in diplomatic relations with any country “without trying to humiliate”.
“I’ve never found that I’ve got my way by humiliating someone,” he said.
“You always pay a price for that. So you know it’s important to take a nuanced position with China.
“At the same time, it’s got to be crystal clear what our positions are on various issues so there’s absolutely no confusion.
“And I think that is the best way diplomatically to handle some of these relationships with other countries.”
Mr Hockey said he saw the growing rivalry between China and the US as one of the most significant threats to global economic stability and geopolitical stability over the next decade.
“China hasn’t got a friend in Washington DC and there is a residual fear in parts of the White House and the administration that the Democrats will go further in their anti-China sentiment than even the Republicans,’’ he said.
“That’s because there’s cause for it, that the aggression of China towards the US is being reciprocated now by the US, and it is going to be a very difficult period.”
He stressed that while Australia had been “blessed” with a fantastic working relationship with China, from a national security perspective Australia had to put its people first.
“We’re crazy if we ever walk away from the partnership we have with the US,” he said.
Mr Hockey took up his post in Washington as Australia’s ambassador to the US in January 2016 and completed the appointment at the end of January this year.
He has since established Bondi Partners, an advisory business, with Alex Tureman, a former Democratic Party operator who had previously worked for Mr Hockey.
Asked about his relationship with Donald Trump and the President’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Hockey made a parallel with generals in war who made an estimate of casualties whenever they engaged in conflict.
“Did Donald Trump do it? I don’t know, but obviously he kicked into action when it looked like there was going to be somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 Americans die, but at the same time the lockdown had a profound impact on the community,’’ he said.
“And now I just think there’s general defiance of a range of measures that have been recommended to try and reduce the impact of coronavirus.
“The net result is that America’s getting on with it, and they’re still going to lose a lot of lives along the way.’’