The announcement that Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has accepted an invitation to visit China raises questions about the complex relationships between the two countries.
China is one of Australia’s major trading partners, a destination for much of our resources exports without which the economy would be in a more precarious situation.
But the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime is also a significant threat to the international rules-based order upon which trading nations like Australia are reliant.
Under Xi Jinping, the CCP has become increasingly externally aggressive, internally repressive, and bellicose in its nationalism.
It threatens not just Taiwan—also a major trading partner of Australia—but many neighbouring nations. Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, and India are just a few of the countries with which Beijing is in dispute.
Two weeks ago, the CCP published a new map in which it claims not only Taiwan and the China Sea as its own, but a Russian island and Indian territory.
The smothering of democracy and freedom in Hong Kong is almost complete, and its brutal purge of the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities continues.
Overseas citizens are detained in China, some are jailed without any semblance of an open and transparent process.
The Chinese economy has passed its peak and now faces a long period of stagnation.
The reality is that the totalitarian culture of the CCP, in which the individual is an instrument of the state, will always be in conflict with open democracies, which are based on respect for the dignity and liberty of the individual.
Mr. Albanese’s acceptance of an invitation to meet Mr. Xi in Beijing comes at the same time the Chinese leader has decided to not attend the G20 summit in India.
Instead of the world forum, Mr. Xi prefers meetings with other totalitarian leaders and weaker states such as the recent BRICS forum in South Africa.
Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi attending the BRICS forum, Mr. Xi will snub the G20 in India.
Rather than being numbered as just one of the world leaders in India, Mr. Xi now prefers fora of his own choosing where he can strut around with an air of self-importance, especially meetings in Beijing where the state media, indeed the attending foreign media, will highlight his role.
World leaders are hardly flocking to Beijing. This year just four national leaders—from New Zealand, Barbados, Mongolia, and Vietnam—attended the so-called “Summer Davos Forum” in the Chinese city of Tianjin.
This is the danger for Mr. Albanese.
Alacrity about the visit simply plays into Mr. Xi’s narrative about a superior China to which other nations are subservient. The prime minister will be portrayed in the Chinese media as paying homage to Mr. Xi.
We Should Continue to Stand Our GroundLast week, former Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned members of the parliamentary Liberal and National Parties about kowtowing to China.
According to an MP present at the meeting, Mr. Morrison expressed concern about the government’s “acquiescent and concessional approach” towards Beijing, particularly the government’s “keenness” in restoring relations.
“Scott told us he continued to be proud at how his government stood up to China and that other countries followed our lead,” an MP told the ABC.
This is true. The Chinese leadership was angered by Australia’s stance under Mr. Morrison, beginning with the calls for a transparent inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 virus—and the heart that other leaders took from Australia’s stand.
Mr. Morrison’s caution is salutary. Neither Mr. Xi nor the CCP have changed. It is just convenient to appear more conciliatory as its economy stagnates and the world unites against its aggression.
As Mr. Morrison indicated, China is supporting Russia in its ongoing war against Ukraine.
To date, Australia has not won concessions on a number of China’s restrictive trade measures, despite the efforts of trade minister Senator Don Farrell.
If these restrictions remain in place prior to the planned visit, Mr. Albanese should postpone his trip.
Otherwise, Mr. Xi will have gained a propaganda victory at no cost.
A banquet in the Great Hall of the People is hardly worth the longer-term damage a one-sided visit will entail.