Albanese says approach to China should be ‘competition not catastrophe’

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese says a more aggressive China requires the Australian government to take a more subtle approach than talking up conflict.

Jun 24, 2021, updated Jun 25, 2021

Albanese told a business conference in Canberra that Australia’s dealings with China should not ignore the benefit of their economic relationship.

Recently installed Defence Minister Peter Dutton and home affairs chief Mike Pezzullo have talked about the “drums of war”, amid growing tensions with Beijing.

“We need to recognise that China has got more aggressive and we need to recognise that China is responsible for changing the relationship,” the Labor leader told a Committee for the Economic Development of Australia State of the Nation forum on Thursday.

“But it doesn’t mean you can’t have an economic relationship, as governments in the past have done.”

He said China’s focus on its own interests under Xi Jinping required “a response in terms of our national sovereignty and national interests”.

Already facing restrictions on coal, barley, wine, cotton and beef, some fear Australia’s iron ore exports could be next.

There have been reports out of China about an “economic winter” for Australia as its largest trading partner looks for alternative steel supplies out of Africa, CEDA chief executive Melinda Cilento said.

Vandita Pant, chief commercial officer at BHP, said the strength of relationships with customers in China was critical for the mining heavyweight, and would be for a long time.

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“When we are trying to get the maximum value based on competitive advantage of our resources, and making sure we get optimal placement for those resources – on behalf of BHP but also the people who work for us, the communities, and the country – we really invest deeply, strategically in relationships,” she said.

Albanese said it was in no one’s interest to “talk up conflict”, as the Morrison government appeared to be doing.

US president Joe Biden has talked about “competition not catastrophe”.

“We should always speak up for human rights, we should always speak up for our own interests, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t adopt a position which is consistent with the position of the Biden administration,” Mr Albanese said.

“We picked a side under Labor, when we formed the US alliance, and were right to do so, to have those relationships with our democratic partners.”

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