Julie Bishop has hit back at former Australian ambassador to China Geoff Raby, who penned a damning opinion piece overnight claiming that relations with Beijing can only improve with the Foreign Minister’s sacking.
In the piece, Mr Raby slams Ms Bishop for not having visited China in more than two years while angering Beijing with “strident public comments on the South China Sea” and an “utterly bizarre” 2017 speech that he maintains questioned Beijing’s regional leadership.
Ms Bishop told 7.30 that Mr Raby’s article was one of the most “ill-informed” she has read about the China-Australia relationship.
“He has not spoken to me for many, many years, he didn’t seek any clarification from my office,” she said.
“So he’s profoundly ignorant, might I say, about the level of engagement between Australia and China at present and the state of the relationship.”
She described Australia’s current relationship with China as “deep and strong”, but acknowledged the two countries “disagree from time to time”.
“The fundamental interests underpinning the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Australia and China have not changed,” she said.
In the Fairfax piece published late last night, Mr Raby — who told the ABC he had nothing further to add — declares that Australia’s foreign policy is “missing in action” and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull “needs to replace the Foreign Minister with someone better equipped for the demands of the job”.
“[Julie Bishop] has many esteemed attributes both professionally and personally and has achievements to her credit,” Mr Raby writes.
“Australia, however, needs a foreign minister who is steeped in history and geopolitics, who lives and breathes the issues.
“And who has a grasp of the profound challenges Australia faces in the rapidly evolving new world order being shaped, in large measure, by China.”
Mr Raby runs a Beijing-based consultancy firm and sits on several ASX-listed company boards including Yancoal, an Australian subsidiary of Chinese state-owned mining giant Yankuang Group.
‘Utterly wrong’: Malcolm Turnbull
Asked by reporters if he had a response to the advice from a former ambassador to China, Mr Turnbull told a press briefing in Melbourne this morning that he stood by Ms Bishop and that the piece was disappointing and “utterly wrong”.
“I was disappointed by that article. It’s utterly wrong,” Mr Turnbull said.
“Julie Bishop is doing an outstanding job. Every time she goes out on the world stage, she makes Australians proud. She’s a formidable foreign minister, a great diplomat and a great colleague.”
Last year, Beijing defended itself as a good example for the region after comments Ms Bishop made in Singapore, where she appeared to question China’s ability to be a regional leader while citing the communist country’s lack of democracy.
“While non-democracies such as China can thrive when participating in the present system, an essential pillar of our preferred order is democratic community,” Ms Bishop said at the time.
“History also shows democracy and democratic institutions are essential for nations if they are to reach their economic potential.”
At the time, Chinese state media outlet Global Times warned that “Australia should not meddle in Chinese affairs” and following the latest piece by Mr Raby there has been mixed responses to the spat on social media.
“It is shameful and against the interests of Australia to echo the state media of the China Communist Party (CCP) and call for the resignation of the Australian foreign minister,” Dr Feng Chongyi, associate professor in China studies at the University of Technology Sydney, told the ABC.
“The ‘new world order’ Geoff Raby is trying to describe here is a world dictated by the CCP state — it means China would be a key player to decide world issues,” said Dr Feng, who was detained by China during an academic trip last year.
“Australia and liberal democracies all over the world need to stand firm in shaping China’s behaviour to abide by the existing liberal international order.”
The Chinese Embassy in Australia has not responded to the ABC’s request for comments.
Meanwhile, Fortescue Metals Group founder Andrew Forrest criticised Australia’s media, particularly print, for its coverage of China, according to the Australian Financial Review.
Mr Forrest made the comment while celebrating 10 years of iron ore exports alongside Ms Bishop at the Fortescue’s Cloudbreak mine on Tuesday.
“When it gets reprinted in China it does break my heart,” the AFR quoted him as saying.
“They [Australian media operators] don’t have government endorsement, they are not the government voice, they are business people trying to sell a few newspapers.”