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27 Mar, 2022 13:29

Australian PM explains refusal to meet China’s envoy

It would be a sign of “weakness” after Beijing’s suspension of minister-to-minister talks, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said
Australian PM explains refusal to meet China’s envoy

Scott Morrison declined to meet with China’s new ambassador to Australia earlier this month because it would have been a sign of “weakness” after Beijing suspended ministerial engagement, the prime minister has explained.

Earlier this week, local media reported that Morrison had recently declined a formal request for a meeting from China’s new envoy, Xiao Qian.

“So long as China continues to refuse to have dialogue with Australian ministers and the prime minister, I think that’s an entirely proportional response,” Morrison said as he explained his decision to journalists on Saturday.

“That would be a demonstration of weakness and I can assure you as prime minister that’s the last message I’d ever send to China,” he insisted.

With Beijing blocking minister-to-minister contacts, “Australians would see it as very inappropriate for me to engage in that dialogue with an ambassador,” the prime minister stated.

Xiao eventually ended up holding talks with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne. This did not result in any diplomatic breakthrough, but still became the most high-profile meeting between officials from the two Pacific rivals in almost two years.

During his meetings with private-sector representatives in recent weeks, the ambassador relayed a message to the Australian authorities from Chinese President Xi Jinping: “Australia has been treating China like the enemy. Australia has to decide whether it is China’s enemy or China’s friend.”

This will likely be a complicated decision for Canberra, considering the recent leak of a draft security deal between China and the Solomon Islands, which could well see Beijing establishing a naval base in the Oceania region. Morrison said the development was of “great concern across the Pacific family.”

Australia maintains strong influence in the Solomon Islands, providing it with financial aid and security. The Australian military and police are set to remain in the country until December 2023 after being deployed there in 2019 to help quell riots that were provoked by the local government’s decision to switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing.

Canberra also recently slammed Beijing for its “chilling silence” regarding the Russian military operation in Ukraine and its refusal to introduce any sort of sanctions against Moscow.

Meanwhile, China has been angered by Australia’s participation in the AUKUS deal with the US and the UK, which was announced last year and is aimed at arming Canberra with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

Relations between the two countries took a turn for the worse in 2020, deteriorating when Australia called for a global probe into the origins on Covid-19 and how it spread. Beijing, which had been vigorously rejecting attempts to pin the blame for the pandemic on it, responded by banning imports of some Australian products, including coal, barley and lobsters.