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Former Australian PM Blasts Canberra’s China Policy

Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating appears virtually from Sydney, to address the National Press Club in Canberra, Australia, Nov. 10, 2021.

Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating has said Canberra’s policy on China is misguided and fails to understand the country's rise.

Paul Keating was Australian prime minister from 1991 to 1996. Throughout his career, he emphasized the need for Australia to foster closer ties with its neighbors in the Indo-Pacific.

Addressing the National Press Club in Canberra Wednesday, he criticized Australia’s current attitudes toward China, its biggest trading partner.

Relations have been fraught over a range of geopolitical disputes, including the blocking of Chinese telecommunications company Huawei from Australia’s 5G network and allegations of Chinese interference in Australian politics. Canberra’s call for an independent probe into the origins of COVID-19, which was first detected in China in late 2019, also infuriated Beijing. It has responded with various import restrictions on Australian goods, including coal and wine.

Keating argued Australia could have a “civil relationship” with China even though there may be disagreements. He stressed that Canberra “should not be drawn into a military engagement over Taiwan” because it was “not a vital Australian interest.”

He also criticized Australia’s plans to build nuclear submarines under the new AUKUS alliance with the United States and the United Kingdom.

He said the technology would be outdated by the time the vessels were in service.

“Eight submarines against China - when we get the submarines in 20-years’ time, it will be like throwing a handful of toothpicks at a mountain,” Keating said.

Allan Gyngell is a former senior adviser to Paul Keating and the former head of the Office of National Assessments, an Australian intelligence agency.

He told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the former prime minister has accurately summed up Australia’s problems with China.

“He is right that the relationship between Australia and China at the moment has never been worse since we established diplomatic relations, and I also think he is right in pointing to the lack of depth of understanding about China itself in the Australian debate,” Gyngell said.

The current Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, has not yet responded to Keating’s remarks. However, a government lawmaker, James Paterson, reportedly said the former leader’s assessments were “out of date.”

Morrison has previously insisted that the AUKUS alliance was in Australia’s national interests and would boost regional security.