THE MANCHURIAN EX-AMBASSADOR – Malcolm Farr reports on a “brutal assessment”:
Our relations with China are under increasing strain and a former Australian ambassador to Beijing has given a brutal explanation of the tension.
He blames mistrust at the top of the Turnbull Government and an aggressive campaign by “the intelligence establishment” for the breakdown in our relationship with China.
Geoff Raby, our envoy to Beijing from 2007 to 2011, believes the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has “politicised itself” and critics of its actions are dismissed as pro-China “panda huggers”.
He argues security bodies have taken management of relations with China out of the hands of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
And he claims there is a rift between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy Liberal Leader and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
“Part of the problem for DFAT is that their minister is not trusted by the Prime Minister,” Mr Raby, now a Beijing-based businessman, has written in a blog.
“A deputy who has survived three leaders does bear watching. The contrast between Howard and Downer could not be starker,” he said, referring to former prime minister John Howard and his foreign minister Alexander Downer.
Mr Raby’s bigger claim is that security agencies — including the Defence Department, Office of National Assessments, ASIO, Australian Secret Intelligence Service and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s International Division — have asserted themselves because “China has successfully challenged the US’s pre-eminence”.
“In response, the security establishment some time ago concluded that the China relationship was too important to trust to DFAT,” he wrote.
“The Foreign Minister’s, and hence her department’s, role in managing this critical relationship has become inconsequential.”He accuses ASIO of being “the most likely source of the media briefing” that brought down former Labor senator Sam Dastyari, who was exposed as having cautioned a Chinese businessman his phone was being tapped.
And he said ASIO was “politicising itself and in doing so undermines its integrity and independence and so weakens Australia’s security”.
It’s Mr Raby’s business to worry about his business, it’s the intelligence agencies’ business to worry about the security of Australia. That they are wary of a growing regional power, a dictatorship with expansionist ambitions and a desire to export its brand of illiberal socio-economic system, is to be welcomed. I’d rather not take a geo-political advice from someone whose commercial success depends on playing nice with the Communist Party (as it does for everyone doing business in China).