With revelations about Chinese company ZTE’s generosity with bribes as it vies for local contracts, the China Lobby has picked an odd time to issue its latest demand: the sacking of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
Undeterred by controversy around the Chinese telecoms firm, one of the Lobby’s most senior figures, former ambassador to Beijing Geoff Raby, has issued marching orders from the Middle Kingdom, where his consultancy firm is “based”.
“The Prime Minister needs to replace the Foreign Minister with someone better equipped for the demands of the job,” Raby wrote for the Financial Review at the end of a thousand-word diatribe about Australia’s relations with China, the latter’s “major diplomatic and geopolitical victories” (for the China Lobby, everything President-For-Life Xi Jinping touches turns to gold) and Bishop’s unfitness for office.
There are some good reasons for sacking Bishop — using her travel expenses to party at a polo frolic being one. But on China, she’s done her job of representing Australia’s interests superbly. And while those who argue China is constantly trying to interfere in Australian politics can draw their own conclusions from Raby’s diktats, the sensitivities displayed by Raby are a good guide to the Chinese regime’s thinking — one of the most successful parts of Clive Hamilton’s recent, overegged book on Chinese interference was how the Lobby reflexively uses Beijing’s talking points. The attack on Bishop — and by implication Malcolm Turnbull himself — suggests deep disgruntlement with Australia’s failure under the Turnbull government to comply with China’s regional aggression.
And as always, Raby has a bee in his bonnet about the Quadrilateral Dialogue, the recently re-started dialogue between Australia, the US, Japan and India. “Australia hopes to draw India in as the anchor to the Orwellian concept of the Indo-Pacific,” he wrote. We know that the adjective “Orwellian” has been subjected to rampant inflation in recent decades and now even the mildest misnomer or lily-gilding prompts claims of Big Brother and doublethink, but construing “Indo-Pacific” as “Orwellian” appears a new stretch even for the China Lobby — although one admires Raby’s chutzpah as an apologist for the world’s most brutal and corrupt tyranny invoking Orwell.
The official line from Beijing is that there is no substance to the concept of the “Indo-Pacific” and that it will “dissipate like ocean foam” (always with the vivid metaphors, those Marxists). Raby dutifully parrots that, declaring “the Indo-Pacific as a geopolitical concept is as meaningless as the Atlanto-Pacific would be.” Thanks Geoff, we got the press release from the Foreign Ministry. But based on this, you can be sure that the Quadrilateral Dialogue and the Indo-Pacific concept is deeply rankling Beijing. Which is a sure sign that it’s in Australia’s interests to pursue it further. And it seems like Julie Bishop is the best minister to continue to do that.