Australia must confront the “inconvenient truths” about China, Defence Minister Richard Marles says as Australia seeks to repair its economic relationship amid a significant military build-up.
The Deputy Prime Minister on Tuesday morning said despite recent trade breakthroughs with Beijing, the relationship with China remained “very complex”.
Mr Marles said it was a relationship that could not be defined with “simplistic platitudes” after China wound back trade restrictions on Australian timber last week and with signs sanctions against barley could soon dissipate.
The immense threat China posed in undertaking the largest conventional military build-up since the Second World War must be taken in combination with the significant trade opportunities, he said.
“I mean, there are human rights issues in China and we are vigilant in the way in which we’ve raised that, but we’ve also seen a huge growth in the Chinese economy, which has given rise to the single biggest alleviation out of poverty that we’ve seen in human history,” Mr Marles said.
“All of those facts sit together and they are complex. We have a trading relationship with China, which is of enormous benefit to this country.
“And we’ve added in at the same time, we do have security anxieties in relation to China with the significant military build-up that we’ve seen. All of that is complex. There’s not a way around the complexity of that.”
Mr Marles said Australia would “work with China where we can, but we will also disagree with China when we must”.
“But at the end of the day, we value a productive relationship with China. That’s obvious because China matters. And we’re seeking to stabilise that relationship with China and you can see that happening,” he said.
He added that unlike China, Australia was seeking to engage with the region to make sure motive and strategy was “transparent”.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is on track to visit China later this year in what would be the strongest sign yet the relationship – which soured significantly under the former Coalition government – was back on track.
Some criticism has been lobbed at Mr Albanese for going to China before all trade impediments are removed.
Mr Marles said Mr Albanese’s visit shouldn’t be tied down by “conditionalities”.
“What we’re trying to do with China – it is complex, and it is difficult,” he said.
“If people want to try and make something which is very complex and difficult more simple, it just isn’t.
“What we’re trying to do is to stabilise the relationship … It is more stabilised than it was a year ago, but it is not stabilised in the complete vision you have for where you want it.”