25 September 2019


Serious divisions have emerged within the Morrison government over its China trade policy.
In a radio interview this morning, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham repeatedly declined to endorse Scott Morrison’s comments in the United States this week that China should now be treated as a developed economy under world trade rules.
Senator Birmingham even claimed that the Prime Minister had not used the word “developed” in relation to China’s economy.
That is plain wrong.
It was also revealed that the Trade Minister, when he was in Beijing a few weeks ago, did not inform China that Australia no longer believes it is a developing nation.
Mr Morrison and his Minister are clearly not on the same page. 
The Government has failed to follow its own advice about the need for deep thought and consideration in ensuring good relations with both US and China.
It seems that the Prime Minister has been dazzled by Donald Trump’s bright lights and has lost his focus on the key test for his visit - influencing the US towards ending its damaging trade war with China
It’s reasonable to recognise that China’s economy has changed enormously and that has helped millions out of poverty and been of benefit to Australia as well.
It is also reasonable to seek to reform the WTO to reflect the modern realities of the global trading system.
But achieving this will take careful diplomacy.
It is one thing to propound an idea from Australia or even other carefully selected capitals, but doing so in the US and so soon after meeting President Trump has ensured China will dismiss it out of hand.
The fact that the US President then raised the same point just days later will only reinforce suspicions the PM is more concerned with US interests rather than Australia’s.
Extract from Radio National interview:
HAMISH MACDONALD: When you went to China and made that speech, did you tell them that they were no longer a developing economy, that they were in fact a developed economy?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I did, in fact, in that speech ask for and extend the hand of friendship that Australia wanted to work with China as we do with other nations on WTO reform, including around the issues of change in status. Now whether or not…
MACDONALD: …but did you say to them: “You are no longer developing, you are now developed”? Because that’s crucial, did you say that?
BIRMINGHAM: Well Hamish, those words were also not used by Scott Morrison either. What he did say was that their growth has been immense, that clearly they are no longer the country that they were when they acceded to the WTO a number of years ago and that we ought to see changes that reflect their development. That doesn’t say that we are getting into a binary debate about whether somebody is developed or developing, there’s clearly a spectrum there…
MACDONALD: … I’m sorry but the Prime Minister did say in his speech…
BIRMINGHAM: …some countries are more developed than others…
MACDONALD: … the Prime Minister said that they were a newly developed economy.
BIRMINGHAM: They have absolutely been on a path of development; they have developed a long way from where they were. Of course, they are not as prosperous as some other nations, but we ought to see engagement that reflects, in the case of China, as in the case of many other nations that have grown significantly over recent years, engagement that reflects their new development status.