JOURNALIST: Richard, which of the 14 grievances do you give up to resume discussions with Beijing?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Our relationship with China is really important. The starting point of Australia’s foreign relations needs to be about our own national interest, about who we are and what we stand for. And from there, it’s about making sure that you have a set of guiding principles about how we relate to all countries, and particularly a country as significant as China and that we do the diplomacy right. I’d make this point; that in respect of the tweets, which were issued this week by China, which really were outrageous, and I haven’t seen anything like it in my experience of foreign relations, it was very important that the country speak with one voice. And that’s why we’ve given complete support to the way in which the Prime Minister appropriately reacted to this.
JOURNALIST: So, what’s the government done wrong in its handling with the relationship with China?
MARLES: Well, it’s important that we’re having a discussion about this. Because our relationship with China is fundamentally important. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs that are at stake here. But can I also make this point; that on this day and in this week, given what China did with those tweets, it’s really important that we retain our focus on the response to that specifically. And that’s why we’ve given the government complete support in relation to that. I’d also make this point, you know, what we’ve been saying in relation to the government’s handling of China, which is a completely appropriate discussion to be involved in, is one we’ve been doing for a long time, much more than a year now. And it’s about making sure that we get, you know, diplomacy right, and that we get the relationship in the best place it can be. A point the government itself has been making this week. But I think, most importantly, right now is that we are responding with unity in respect of these tweets, and that’s what we’ve shown.
JOURNALIST: Who shoulders the greatest blame for the deterioration in our relationship, China or Australia?
MARLES: Relationships have two parties in them, and I mean, China obviously, has made a significant contribution to where the relationship is now at in a negative sense. And certainly, the tweets that occurred this week were appalling. I mean, they’ve done nothing to try and get the relationship to a better place. And as I’ve repeatedly said, in my experience of foreign relations, I’ve really not seen anything like them. And in that context, I don’t think there was anything the government could have done, other than what it did do. Which was to respond in the way it did. And that’s why we gave the government complete support in respect of that. I also note that the Prime Minister rightly said that he hoped that this could be a moment where we sought to reset and that’s what we need to be trying to do. And that we’re contributing to that conversation is completely appropriate.
JOURNALIST: Richard, this goes beyond a simple tweet, as horrendous as everybody agrees it is. China’s laid out the 14 reasons, the 14 points it has a problem with Australia, largely, which goes to national security and national interest issues. Which of those need to be sacrificed, according to the Chinese Government says they need to be sacrificed to resume relationships? Which one would you give up?
MARLES: Yeah, I mean, that’s not the frame or the discussion that I think it’s helpful for –
JOURNALIST: That’s the frame Beijing’s putting.
MARLES: No, that’s not the frame or the discussion that I think is helpful for Australian officials to engage in. I think our starting point needs to be our own national interest, what we stand for as a people. And that’s what we’ve sought to do, what Labor has sought to do in the way in which we’ve analysed and articulated this issue. I mean, and I’ve made it really clear that whilst calling for better relations with China, it’s critical that we have in place the sort of personal relationships, which give us the ballast so that we can have the courage to articulate our national interest when that differs from Chinese action. The South- the South China Sea is a perfect example of that, where, you know, where the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is really central to Australia’s interests as an island trading nation and where most of our trade goes through that body of water. So, we need to start from the point of view of where our national interest lies. Obviously, the trading relationship with China has been very important for our country as well. And we’ve got to remember, there are hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake here, and that’s why it’s important that we seek to get this relationship to a better place, which is what the government is calling for as well.
JOURNALIST: Richard, do you think that Australia is too reliant on China and we need to diversify?
MARLES: The more we can have a diversified set of trading relationships, the better. That’s obvious. But the trading relationship with China has been very important to our prosperity and will continue to be so. So, we need to be thinking about how we can fix that relationship. Yeah, we definitely need to be developing as many trading relationships as we can. But for anybody who has been involved in this space, that doesn’t happen overnight. I mean, that’s a work in progress, which takes decades. So, establishing new trading partners is going to take a long time, we should be working on that. But we should be working on seeking to repair the relationship with China, and that’s the point the government has made as well.
JOURNALIST: Richard, in this environment, is it difficult to have a nuanced discussion and debate about our relations with China? And is there a risk that it becomes or is becoming too black or white?
MARLES: I think it is difficult to have a nuanced discussion. But I think it’s really important that we seek to do that, because there’s a lot at stake. There’s hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake. It’s also important that we understand that there are moments where there is a time and place to kind of talk about how we might do things better. But there’s a time and place where we make sure we’re speaking with a single voice. And that’s what this week has been, and that’s what we’ve done-
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Daniel Andrews this is about profits?
MARLES: – and that’s the important point that we’ve been seeking to make. This, this needs to be about our national interest. It needs to be about who we are and what we stand for as a people. Part of that is the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, our ability to traverse the high seas and issues around national security, part of it is about trade. And there are hundreds of thousands of jobs which are at stake here, and we can never forget those people.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.