Prime Minister Scott Morrison has moved to reset Australia’s strained relationship with China, announcing a $44 million foundation to strengthen bilateral ties and appointing a top China specialist as Australia’s new ambassador in Beijing.
The Conservative Party has repeated its call for the government to mount a royal commission into Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia.
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The Australian reports, the Prime Minister's announcement comes amid growing tensions over the ban on Chinese companies participating in Australia’s 5G network and a backlash over new foreign interference laws.
The new National Foundation for Australia-China Relations will harness Australia’s Chinese community, as well as big business and cultural organisations, to “turbo charge” engagement with China as the nation’s biggest trading partner turns up the heat on Australian exporters.
Career diplomat Graham Fletcher (pictured), a fluent Mandarin speaker with three previous postings to Beijing, will replace outgoing ambassador Jan Adams later this year, as the bilateral relationship comes under pressure from a string of hardline policy decisions by the Coalition government.
The foundation will replace the four-decade-old Australia-China Council, which focused on education, culture and the arts, with record funding and a widened remit to promote ties in agriculture, infrastructure, health, ageing, the environment and energy.
The announcements come as a Chinese go-slow processing Australian coal imports spreads to an increasing number of ports, prompting Chinese buyers to look for other sources of supply.
The Australia-China relationship has emerged as a key domestic issue ahead of the federal election expected in May, with Bill Shorten seeking this week to reassure Australian-Chinese voters, and Beijing, that he welcomes the rise of China in the world.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull declared during the debate over foreign interference in Australia’s political system that Australians should “stand up” for their nation’s sovereignty.
The comments were perceived in Beijing as being aimed at China, while the ban on security grounds of Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE participating in the next-generation 5G network further damaged the relationship.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham recently said Australian officials had been reassured by Chinese counterparts that the long delay in processing Australian coal imports was not specifically targeted at Australia.
However, the government is concerned China could be using its economic power to punish nations to advance its national interests.
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