Scott Morrison warns Anthony Albanese against visit to China

PM confirms invitation to visit China

Former prime minister Scott Morrison has continued his anti-China rhetoric from the backbench after he warned his successor Anthony Albanese against heading to Beijing later this year.

Mr Morrison made the speech during a Coalition party room meeting earlier this week.

“He was warning us about [President] Xi and his regime – urging us to hold the line, and not follow Labor’s approach,” an opposition MP told the ABC.

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

Mr Morrison also reiterated his stance on China’s treatment of minority groups and said Mr Albanese shouldn’t accept a Chinese government invite to visit Beijing.

On Thursday, Mr Albanese confirmed he would travel to China and meeting President Xi Jinping on the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s visit to the country.

It will be the first trip to China by an Australian PM since Malcolm Turnbull went in 2016.

“The cooperation and engagement between our two countries is always improved when there is a dialogue, when there is discussion,” Mr Albanese said.

“That is how you get mutual agreement, mutual respect and advance the interests of both our nations.”

On Friday morning, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said it would be appropriate for Mr Albanese to accept the invitation.

“Firstly, was China upset about the AUKUS deal? Yes. But was it the right decision? Absolutely,” Mr Dutton told ABC Radio.

“I’ve been very clear about the fact that we want China to be a very strong trading partner, but there are issues where we do have a point of difference.”

Anti-China crusade

Mr Morrison was one of the world’s most outspoken leaders against China while PM from 2018 until 2022, with his government introducing laws against foreign interference and banning Chinese companies from the 5G rollout.

Before the pandemic, Mr Morrison criticised the China for its mass detention of Uighurs, with his government condemning the treatment of the Muslim minority group alongside 22 other countries and the United Nations.

Chinese-Australian relations hit an all-time low when Mr Morrison called for an inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in harsh sanctions on Australian goods.

China slapped tariffs on about a dozen Australian goods, including wine, lobster, beef, barley and timber, from May 2020, cutting exports worth roughly $20 billion a year because of the deteriorating political relationship.

Australia’s wine and lobsters were just two exports China restricted. Photo: Unsplash

Despite this, Australian exports to China still grew by 14 per cent in 2021 and 6 per cent in 2022, during a period of economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

When Mr Morrison signed the AUKUS security pact, a partnership with Britain and the US to deliver nuclear-powered submarines, Beijing called it a “path of error and danger.”

In February, Mr Morrison made an inflammatory speech in Tokyo, where he compared Western actions towards China to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of the Nazi regime in 1938.

A change in government

When Labor swept to power in 2022, it was seen as an opportunity for a reset in the relationship with China.

In December 2022, Penny Wong became the first foreign minister in three years to visit Beijing. While there, she raised the issue of trade blockages and human rights with Wang Yi, her Chinese counterpart.

As relations have eased, China has rolled back tariffs on some goods, although they remain for wine and lobster.

Mr Albanese is likely to raise the cases of journalist Cheng Lei and academic Yang Hengjun, who are being held on vague national security charges, when he visits China sometime in the next two months.

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