Turnbull: Australia must defend its sovereignty to yield only to be despised by the other side

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the freeze in Australia-China relations will last a long time, but Australia must not back down in defending its national sovereignty and interests, and that capitulation will only be rewarded with contempt from the other side.

Turnbull told the Lowy Institute for International Policy on Monday (May 31, 2021) that Australians have long blamed themselves when Beijing expresses anger and resentment toward Canberra, but things are changing; thanks to China’s role in the South China Sea, industrial espionage, war-wolf diplomacy and the imposition of trade sanctions, public opinion in Australia is increasingly tilted against China.

During his tenure as prime minister, the Turnbull-led government pushed for laws restricting the expansion of foreign political influence in Australia and banned Chinese telecommunications provider Huawei from participating in the construction of Australia’s fifth-generation mobile communications network. China reacted angrily and retaliated with a number of trade sanctions.

Turnbull defended his government’s decision to do so. He said, “Every country should stand up for its sovereignty, and that’s all we’ve done.”

Morrison, who also belongs to the Liberal Party and succeeded Turnbull as prime minister in August 2018, and other senior officials publicly called last year for international organizations to hold an independent inquiry into Beijing’s role in the new coronavirus pandemic. Beijing has since launched a new wave of tougher trade sanctions against Australia .

In his speech Monday, Turnbull said there may be justifiable criticism of the way the Morrison government made those comments, but the real problem is that Beijing overreacted to them.

Looking to the future of Australia-China relations, Turnbull, who is a moderate Liberal, said Australia could not and should not do anything unilaterally to change the status quo in the frozen relationship between the two countries, and that “we must stand our ground and continue to defend our values and interests.” However, he said Australian officials need to be careful in their rhetoric and avoid any aggressive statements and moves.

Turnbull made the remarks during a presentation at the Lowy Institute for International Policy on a new book, “The Red Zone: China’s Challenge and Australia’s Future,” by Peter Hartcher, a fellow at the institute.

Speaking at the conference, Hartcher said China’s aggressive expansion has shown the world its true face and true intentions. He said that Australians have come to their senses, but some countries have not. Fortunately, he added, China’s trade sanctions have not affected Australia’s macroeconomy, while at the same time the Biden administration in the United States is working with allies to jointly address the Chinese challenge.

Secretary of State John Blinken said on May 13 this year that the U.S. would not leave Australia alone to face Chinese economic coercion, saying China’s treatment of its U.S. ally would hinder improvements in U.S.-China relations.