As he prepares for an election campaign, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has emphasised his government’s tough stance on China, a policy that security analysts have warned could backfire.
With his party down in the polls and an election looming in May, Morrison has blasted the opposition Labor Party for being “soft” on China, which is considered as a security concern by two-thirds of Australians rather than an economic partner.
His remarks, according to Labor, go against a long record of bipartisanship on national security concerns. According to commentators, there was no indication that the opposition and the government disagreed on China policy.
“My government will never be a preferred partner of a foreign authority that chooses to coerce and threaten this country… I will never run for their office “On Wednesday, one of the last sitting days before an election campaign begins, Morrison informed parliament.
Morrison stated the Chinese government “has picked their horse and he is sitting right there” in a tense parliamentary session, alluding to Labor leader Anthony Albanese.
Other countries in the region will be watching the political campaign closely, according to John Blaxland, head of the Australian National University’s strategic and defence studies centre, and the Morrison government’s tactics could backfire if they worsen relations with China, the country’s largest export partner.
“This is a dangerous game they’re playing with fire. They’re on the verge of giving up. On national security matters, the Albanese opposition has been in lockstep “He told Reuters about it.
A key poll, Newspoll, released at the end of January, found that while the Morrison government was trailing, respondents rated Albanese ahead on dealing with the pandemic, the major issue that would impact their vote, while Morrison was ahead on dealing with China.
However, only 10% of voters ranked dealing with “the threat from China” as a top concern.
Since then, Labor has tried to downplay any differences with the government on China, with which Canberra has had an increasingly tense diplomatic relationship.
After his agency stopped an attempt by an unknown country to gain influence with candidates, the chief of Australia’s spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, promised a parliament committee on Monday that the national election expected in May would be free of foreign interference.
Director-General Mike Burgess said the spy agency had no security concerns about any Labor Party candidates and attempted to differentiate ASIO from politicians who try to exploit the subject of foreign intervention in elections.
Morrison’s criticism on Wednesday was criticised by Albanese, who claimed Labor, like the government, had fought China’s unofficial sanctions on Australia’s resources, wine, and agriculture because it was in the national interest.
Liberal ministers argued that Labor has not always backed the Morrison government’s China policy, citing previous Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating’s assaults on the AUKUS defensive alliance with the UK and the US to transfer nuclear submarine technology to Australia.
In a parliamentary committee meeting, Labor asked a senior foreign affairs official whether a shift away from bipartisanship on national security could benefit Beijing.
“The Chinese system strives to exploit socioeconomic and other differences in countries to achieve its goal,” said Justin Hayhurst, deputy secretary of the geostrategic section in the foreign affairs department.