Julie Bishop’s start in the crucial role of Foreign Minister has by no means been an unalloyed success. But her stance in relation to China’s aggressive behaviour over the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea is entirely appropriate, and efforts to portray it as another stumble are wrong.
To recap, China has arbitrarily declared the airspace above the disputed islands (which are far closer to Taiwan than China) to be subject to airspace restrictions and demanded other countries observe them. Bishop’s comments on this provocation echoed the line taken by our allies Japan and the United States; that the move was unhelpful and destabilising.
China’s shrill insistence that Bishop’s comments were “irresponsible” and that they should be corrected was entirely predictable. Alas, there is no “mistake” to correct: China’s actions were indeed destabilising and have only raised tensions in the region.
There’s a certain sentiment of appeasement toward China in Australia; it can be found in part of the foreign policy establishment, led by the likes of academic Hugh White, who demand we offer obeisance to Beijing in recognition of its coming dominance, and can be found in some business circles, where economic relations with China are regarded as so important that nothing can in any way upset the Chinese Communist Party leadership.
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Governments of both sides of politics have resisted this insistence that we subject all other priorities to keeping Beijing happy. Kevin Rudd, in particular, showed a healthy, well-informed scepticism toward China that upset many foreign policy establishment types more comfortable with getting along with the Chinese government. Bishop’s response to China’s actions was entirely correct, and continues this tradition.