Beijing calls for Australia to heed Keating’s words

By Melissa Coade

Friday November 12, 2021

Paul Keating
Former prime minister Paul Keating. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

On Thursday a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said the growing strain in bilateral relations lay at Australia’s feet and that political leaders would do well to take on board ‘helpful suggestions’ from former prime minister Paul Keating as to why the Australia-China relationship has become so ‘difficult’.

China spokesperson Wang Wenbin referred to the former Australian prime minister as a ‘visionary’ person with an ‘objective and rational voice’ on China-Australia matters. He said that the current difficult situation in China-Australia relations was entirely caused by the Australian side and that Canberra was ‘fully aware of this’.

“The Australian side should face squarely the crux of the setbacks in the bilateral ties, view China and its development in an objective and rational light, and handle bilateral relations in accordance with the principle of mutual respect and equality,” Wenbin said.

“It should correct its erroneous words and actions on China that has been around for a while and do things that can help to enhance mutual trust and practical cooperation.”

The remarks from the Chinese embassy were issued one day after the former Labor prime minister gave a National Press Club about Australia’s strategic framework, where he attempted to re-frame some of the contemporary issues challenging the Australia-China relationship. 

During his in-conversation style talk with journalist Laura Tingle, Keating addressed issues such as Taiwanese sovereignty and the modern political history which had led to a ‘formula’ that saw Taiwan having its own system of governance but still being regarded as Chinese.

“Taiwan is not a vital Australian interest. We have no alliance with Taipei — none — there is no document that you can find. We do not recognise it as a sovereign state,” Keating said. 

“And under ANZUS, [Australia is committed] to consult on an attack on US forces but not an attack by US forces, which means Australia should not be drawn, in my view, into a military engagement over Taiwan, US-sponsored or otherwise.”

Keating also said that the only time China would attack or be militarily against Taiwan was if the US tried to declare a change in the status of Taiwan. But he reiterated again that under the ANUS alliance, Australia had no commitments to support ‘any ill-conceived US attempts to try and blow [the status quo] up’.

“If Taiwan stays as it is, I think Xi Jingping’s general point (and this has been the point of other Chinese presidents) that harmoniously the Chinese people, in what would otherwise be a civil war, would come to terms with one another,” Keating said. 

“You’ve got to remember, the trade between the two is enormous. The trade between Taiwan, which is a magnificent economy, and China is huge. Taiwanese own chunks of Shanghai, they own property, you’ve got to understand how this place works,” he added.

In April, Australia’s defence minister Peter Dutton said a conflict involving China over Taiwan could be discounted. Then, in October, former Australian Liberal prime minister Tony Abbot was flown to Taipei where he accused China of bullying Taiwan. While there, Abbot met with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.

Dutton also published a tweet after Keating’s National Press Club broadcast, blaming the former PM for talking down Australia and making the inflammatory suggestion that he was a communist for some of his pro-China views. 

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wenbin said Canberra should pay attention to some of Keating’s ‘helpful suggestions’ as public discourse about military threats concerning Taiwan escalates.  

“For quite some time, many visionary people in Australia have made objective and rational voices on China-Australia relations and put forward helpful suggestions on improving bilateral relations, which should be carefully listened to and reflected upon by the Australian government,” Wenbin said.


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