Doorstop - Parliament House, Canberra - 01/12/2020

01 December 2020

SUBJECTS: Australia’s relationship with China; Brereton Report.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Obviously, yesterday we saw a gratuitous and inflammatory tweet, an image on the Twitter account associated with the Chinese Foreign Ministry and I repeat what I said yesterday: the image was gratuitous, it was inflammatory and it was provocative. And it has been rightly met with unified condemnation across the Australian community. I again reiterate what I said yesterday; this is not the action, these are not the actions of a responsible and mature international power. It has been met rightly with condemnation in Australia and I think it is being judged harshly by the international community. I'm happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think Twitter hasn’t taken it down yet?

WONG: Well, I saw that the Prime Minister had asked them to and I think that should be pursued. I think the more important thing for Australia now is where we go from here, and what this tells us about the relationship with China. I think what we have is a deliberate provocation. We have major issues in our trading relationship, which has significant economic consequences. We should respond calmly, we should respond strategically and we should respond with unity. And we should recognise the task that lies ahead of us, which is economic diversification and working with other members of the international community to reinforce the rules and principles and norms around behaviour that we care about.

JOURNALIST: How do we respond and react? These are not the actions of an ally or a friend.

WONG: Perhaps most relevantly they're not the actions of a mature, responsible international power. I've made that clear yesterday and I say that again today.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) ... do you think that’s ever going to come?

WONG: I think in diplomacy, it's always better not to make comment about what others might do, but rather focus on what you do and I think we should be continuing to assert what we have, which is, it is gratuitous and inflammatory and deliberately provocative. I mean the men and women in the Australian uniform serve with distinction and with honour. And one of the things that I think we ought to be proud of as Australians is the way in which we have responded, and most importantly the Australian Defence Force has responded to the allegations and the findings of the Brereton report.

JOURNALIST: Senator, this morning on radio Hugh White said that potentially the way the Prime Minister handled the situation yesterday, the comments that he made yesterday was exactly what China wanted, what do you make of that?

WONG: Well, I'll leave it to others to comment. The Australian community I think is unified in our response. But I do think this; in the face of deliberate provocation, whether it's in this context or elsewhere, it's always best if we respond calmly and strategically rather than emotionally. And I think all of us need to focus on what we together have to do, given where the relationship is, in the coming months and beyond.

JOURNALIST: So, nothing official from China today but their unofficial mouthpiece, The Global Times, as you know, probably, they describe this just as a cartoon. I mean...

WONG: I think we all know that's not true.

JOURNALIST: Just on China's list of grievances that was given to Nine recently, is there anything on that list you think that Australia can actually do? Say, tone down the anti-China rhetoric?

WONG: Well, as a matter of principle, I have been critical of some of the behaviour and language of Mr Christensen and Senator Abetz. I don't think people like me or others, like me, ought to be asked to condemn, to declare loyalty in the way that he's sought to do that. But I think these are... you asked about what to do about the relationship. Well, I think that what we have to do is to be very clear about how we want to approach a China that is behaving in this way, we have to work with the incoming Biden Administration, we have to work with other allies and aligned nations to reinforce the sorts of behaviours and rules that we want. For example, the World Trade Organization, the trading arrangements, they have served China well, they have served the world well and we should continue to assert them.

JOURNALIST: What did you make of Senator Birmingham yesterday in Parliament where he seemed to suggest that Australians, when they're doing Christmas shopping, should potentially, think about, you know, whether or not they buy Chinese products?

WONG: I was sitting across from him. I have to say, I don't recall words, in those terms. Buying Australian is something people like to do, and we all try to do but we're a trading nation, many Australian jobs rely on making sure we engage with the world economy and that's not going to change.

JOURNALIST: What did you think of the Chief of Defence Force toning back his language on the stripping of Meritorious Unit Citation?

WONG: Well, look, I have seen those reports. I think, General Campbell has responded in a very principled way to the Brereton report, and I'll leave it to Mr Marles to respond.

Anything further? You’ve just arrived.

JOURNALIST: Should the military citations be revoked?

WONG: I'll leave that to Mr Marles but I think that these are issues that will be worked through very carefully with the CDF, and members of the Defence Force. And I think we all want a sensible, thorough response to the Brereton report. Thank you.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.