Australia has acknowledged China's growing influence is reshaping the region, saying Beijing's militarisation is putting regional security at risk. Earlier, I spoke with Richard Marles, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, and I asked him how the new government would approach China differently compared to the previous administration.
There won't be any substantive difference in terms of the direction of the previous government and our own. We will be articulating Australia's national interests very clearly and how we see the interests of the region. And that fundamentally is that the global rules-based order, which has underpinned prosperity and security in the East Asian time zone, is what needs to apply. Instruments such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea provide for free navigation of the high seas, free navigation on bodies of water like the South China Sea, where there is an enormous amount of trade, where most of Australia's trade traverses. So we'll be very clear and strong in articulating Australia's interest in that and in exercising our rights on the high sea. Where you will see a difference is in tone. We do believe in the importance of dialogue, which is what the Shangri-La Dialogue is all about. We believe in the importance of diplomacy, and we think that when times are complex, which they certainly are now, it's really important that we are engaging in respectful dialogue with all countries. And that very much includes China.
Canberra has extended an olive branch to China. The Australian Trade Minister is looking to meet with his Chinese counterpart in Geneva in the coming days. But, you know, we've seen with issues such as the COVID-19 probe and security concerns involving Huawei, that politics can and will impact economic ties. How do you navigate that balance, given China is Australia's largest trading partner?
Well, China is Australia's largest trading partner, which is an important point to remember. We would like to see normal trade with China. Trade with China has been very important in terms of both the economic success of China and the economic success of Australia – that doesn't come at the expense of Australia standing up for its national interests and articulating what's important for us as a nation. But as I said, we do intend to engage with our relations in the world in a professional, sober way, where we understand the power of diplomacy and dialogue and where we engage with mutual respect. And that's how we intend to go about our business with China, with all the countries of the world. And that will involve us saying what needs to be said, but doing so in a respectful, sober, professional way.