An expert was caught red-handed after raising an eyebrow about China, admitting it was a « poor choice of words ».
Australia’s ongoing trade tensions with China have put Aussie’s import and export businesses on edge, and for good reason.
Australia’s ongoing trade tensions have left Aussie’s import and export businesses on edge, and for good reason.
Australian companies have been warned to « reduce » their relations with China amid increasing trade pressures between the two countries.
But in a speech to a Senate committee on Thursday, Michael Clifton, interim director of the Australia China Business Council, was forced to admit that downplaying human rights violations in Xinjiang as « color and movement » was a « poor choice of words. »
Chinese diplomats have refused to answer calls from their Australian counterparts for months, although Mr Clifton acknowledged that the federal government had made « every effort » to reopen the dialogue.
But Mr Clifton urged the government to bring business « inside the tent » as it tried to thaw its relationship with Beijing.
“It is clear that China has shied away from any approach by the government and continues to do so. But that doesn’t mean we give up; we just can’t give up, we have to keep trying, » he said.
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“(We need) a diversity of opinions and diversity of voices to be heard about how we are getting through this current toxic environment.
« Sooner or later it will pass. But the sooner it is over, the better. »
Mr Clifton said business could help inform the government on how to handle the fraught relationship, but would do so « quietly…(and) behind closed doors ».
After more than a year of sanctions imposed by Beijing on Australian products, he urged companies to « cut back » their relationship with China by diversifying into alternative markets, but warned they could not afford to market of 1.4 billion people on Australia’s doorstep.
“We are not blind to the reality on the ground. That said, we don’t believe there is an urgent case for decoupling from China, » he said.
« We don’t believe it is in our longer-term national interest for Australian companies to walk away. »
A report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in 2020 found that 82 « well-known global brands » may have benefited directly or indirectly from slave labor sent from Xinjiang.
It is estimated that 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred from the region to work in factories between 2017 and 2019.
Mr Clifton would not be interested in whether Australian companies should be required to report whether their supply chains involved slave labour, raising concerns that the measure could be an « unreasonable burden » on small businesses.
But he did accept the need for supply chain audits and emphasized that Australian companies were not « blind to all the color and movement around what is happening in Xinjiang ».
« Do you agree that the events taking place there are a little more serious than color and movement? » asked Liberal Senator Eric Abetz.
Mr. Clifton acknowledged that the phrase was a « poor choice of words, » but declined to join Mr. Abetz in using the term « atrocities » to describe abuses in Xinjiang.
« Given the highly toxic climate in which any debate about China takes place, anything that further aggravates that environment and muddies the waters will not help us come to a resolution, » he said.
« I’m all for resolutions, instead of throwing rocks. »
« What do you think the one million people in concentration camps would like Australia to do today: softly, softly or calling concentration camps for what they are? » asked Mr. Abetz.
Mr Clifton suggested he would rather avoid a « long and torturous discussion » on the subject.
The exchange came when Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated he was « unwilling to admit » about 14 grievances leveled by Beijing.
Morrison was on his way to a meeting of G7 leaders in the UK on Thursday, a day after calling on the international community to strengthen its rules-based order to avoid economic coercion.
And the prime minister showed no signs of flinching amid the ongoing pressure.
He confirmed that Australia would be « very happy » to discuss the issues with Beijing if it decided to reopen the dialogue, but warned that Australian values are non-negotiable.
“Australia will maintain our very clear positions on this; we made that very clear, » he told 6PR radio on Thursday.
“But at the same time, we are very willing to work with China, trade and engage in our own region and more broadly around the world. So there is no obstacle at the end of Australia.”
Mr Morrison rejected suggestions that Australia had been « stubborn » in its stance on the global superpower, saying no country would be willing to « trade away » its values for financial gain.
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