China’s ambassador Xiao Qian hails ‘new tone and future directions’ in Australia-China relationship

KEY POINTS
  • China’s ambassador Xiao Qian says Australia should be wary of a military threat from Japan.
  • The remarks were made during a New Year’s press event at China’s embassy in Canberra.
  • Earlier, Mr Xiao said he hoped 2023 heralds a strengthening of ties between Australia and China.
China’s ambassador to Australia has invoked World War Two in his criticism of Japan, saying that the country’s actions in that conflict means it could launch a military attack against Australia again.
Xiao Qian made the remarks during an address at the Chinese Embassy in Canberra on Tuesday.
“If we forget history, history might repeat itself,” he said, adding that he hoped Australia would “be careful about what might happen in the future”.

It comes as Mr Xiao criticized the AUKUS security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US), and signaled a further thawing in trade relations.

Mr Xiao said Japan’s conduct during World War Two, including the treatment of Australians as prisoners of war, was “unacceptable” – and the response afterwards means the threat of a future attack against Australia might be possible.
“The Japanese government has not apologized for that up to today … They don’t apologize, that means they don’t accept this wrong, and then they might repeat history.
“… Once somebody threatens you, he might threaten you again.
“I hope that our Australian government, and Australian people would have a clear mind about what happened, and be careful about what might happen in the future.”
Japan’s ambassador in Australia, Shingo Yamagami, said he was taken back by the strength of the criticism.
“Honestly, I’m a bit baffled and perplexed,” he later told the ABC.
“I have no intention whatsoever to respond to any specific comment made by Chinese counterpart, because I don’t believe this is a time to engage in mutual recriminations. If he has anything to say, he can come to me anytime my door is open .”
He said the reference to World War Two is a distraction from China’s actions.
“We all know the post-war trajectory of peace-loving rule-abiding Japan. So what is at issue here is not what took place more than 80 years ago,” he said.

“What is at issue here is how to deal with coercion, intimidation going throughout the region. And here, Australia and Japan are in total sync. We are working together to uphold the rules-based order, both regionally and globally.”

AUKUS criticized

Mr Xiao also criticized the AUKUS security pact between Australia, the UK and the US, labeling it a waste of money and not in Australia’s interest.
“I don’t think it’s constructive. I don’t think it’s helpful, particularly when you’re targeting China as a potential threat and adversary; because in the first place, China is not seeking to be an enemy to the United States – neither with the United Kingdom, nor with Australia,” he said.

“So there is no reason for the countries to stand together to work on something that is targeting China as a particular threat.”

The trilateral AUKUS agreement would see Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines by 2040.

Mr Xiao said Australia acquiring the submarines would send the wrong signal about nuclear non-proliferation.

Movement on trade

Earlier, Mr Xiao signaled a further thawing in trade relations, saying he could not confirm reports that four Chinese companies were granted approval to buy Australian coal, but he welcomed moves in that direction.

“As a diplomat, as ambassador, I cannot confirm the decisions or thinking of the companies. But I personally do welcome that. As both governments make efforts to bring back the relationship back to normal, we will be sending more positive messages to build up more confidence for people in both countries to come back to normal retreat relations.”

A woman wearing a suit and face mask shakes hands with a man wearing a suit and face mask

Foreign Minister Penny Wong met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing in December. Source: AP / Zhang Ling

Australian businesses are eager to see one of the first areas of cooperation be the lifting by China of trade restrictions imposed from 2019 on $20 billion worth of Australian goods, including wine, barley, lobsters, beef, coal, cotton, and timber.

Mr Xiao also signaled a solution may be forthcoming on .

“I hope a solution will come as soon as possible but we need to respect the legal procedure,” he said.

‘Rise above differences’

Before taking questions from journalists, Mr Xiao spoke of his optimism and hope that 2023 would bring a stronger bilateral relationship between the two countries.
Making a toast, he said this year’s Lunar New Year, the year of the rabbit, brings with it good luck and the hope that Australia and China can “work together for mutual benefit”.
“The year of the rabbit is considered to be the year of its jumping over obstacles and coming into a good luck,” he said.
“In the new year, I wish both China and Australia to prosper and I hope Australia and China continue to rise above differences.”
Diplomatic channels between senior officials have reopened for the first time in two years following a series of high-level meetings in recent months, including
Chinese ambassador to Australia holds a wine glass as he makes a toast.

China’s ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, says with Lunar New Year 12 days away, the Year of the Rabbit brings with it “good luck” and he hopes that translates to strengthened bilateral ties between China and Australia. Source: AAP / Dean Lewins

Mr Xiao said the positive new “tone and future directions” of the bilateral relationship was set out in the joint outcome statement, which was produced from the December 2022 meeting between Foreign Minister Penny Wong and counterpart Wang Yi.

It was the first visit by an Australian federal minister to China since 2019.
“It is a paper to lay out the road map for both sides to implement the consensus, by which President Xi and Anthony Albanese [spoke about] during their bilateral meeting [in Bali in November],” Mr. Xiao said.
“And specifically we will restart bilateral dialogues, mechanisms, consultations covering a wide range of areas: bilateral relationship, trade, economics, investment, climate change, regional issues, global issues.”

The ambassador said other “new frontiers” in bilateral cooperation included green energy and electric cars.

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