Sky News Afternoon Agenda – China and USA Relations



Subjects: Caroline Kennedy, characterisation of Marles and Wong, China-Australia relationship, USA relations

KEIRAN GILBERT, HOST: Joining me now is Labor MP Peter Khalil, who of course is a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security. Peter, what does Caroline Kennedy bring to the job? I know she was a former Ambassador to Japan, as well.

PETER KHALIL, MEMBER FOR WILLS: Yeah, G’day Kieran. I mean, look, we’re quite fortunate in having such a high-profile top diplomat Ambassador coming to Canberra. But it’s more than just the Kennedy name. That’s a lot of celebrity surrounds that, there’s lot of history, but she does bring decades of experience and an understanding of the challenges that we face in the Indo-Pacific. You touched on the fact that she was US Ambassador to Japan during the Obama administration, at a pivotal moment, frankly, as Japan started to increase its own engagement in the Indo-Pacific, its leadership in the Indo-Pacific under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. So, she brings great experience to this role and we’re very fortunate to have her, particularly at this pivotal moment in our history. The challenges we face, as she pointed out in the video, jointly in the Indo-Pacific, will have a bearing. How we act, what we do over the next 10, 20 years will have a bearing over the fate, if you like, of not just our region, but the entire planet.

GILBERT: Now, well, as she arrives, of course and you’re alluding to it there; the backdrop of the region, the tensions of the more aggressive China. In the last week or so, we’ve seen them have a real crack at the Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles via the Global Times that propaganda mouthpiece, but then in the last 24 hours or so, a more positive statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry about the Albanese Government, what’s going on here?

KHALIL: A bit of diplomatic shadowboxing, maybe a bit of a kabuki dance. Yes, you’re right., the mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party, which is the Global Times, I wouldn’t take much notice of their pronouncements. I don’t think people in China take much notice of their pronouncements and comments made about Richard Marles were ridiculous. In fact, our Defence Minister has had the opportunity to meet with the Chinese Defence Minister, a significant first step in stabilising the relationship as has Foreign Minister Wong, had an opportunity to meet with Foreign Minister Wang, the first time again in three years. And what’s happening, you ask? It’s interesting because as you noted, there’s also a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement about an acknowledgement, or acceptance or even a praise of the way Minister Wong had discussed her meeting and the four points that were put forward, somewhat unremarkable and no different than what China had been talking about for a while. And so, that looks like there’s a thawing there of the relationship and the stabilisation that we’re undertaking is making some progress. But frankly, as the Prime Minister, Albanese, has said we are not going to respond to demands and that’s right, that’s correct. We should be as he said and he made it very clear, we will be doing what we do in Australia’s national interest and frankly we want to have a mutually beneficial relationship with China Kieran. It’s economically beneficial to both our nations. In fact, it’s just as beneficial to China. In fact, the trade sanctions that they put on us affected their people more so, you know, not getting the food on the table and keeping the lights on more so than it affected our exporters because we were able to find other markets. So, it is in their interests to remove the trade sanctions, to have some movement about releasing Australians held in detention so we can progress to that mutually beneficial economic relationship.

GILBERT: And as I mentioned earlier, you obviously are privy to a lot of the intelligence briefings and so on as member of the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security. But, when you look at our closest ally, are you worried at all when you see how bitterly divided it is on a range of issues, not the least of which even the transfer of power, as we saw with it and continue to see with the January 6th hearings.

KHALIL: Well, our committee the Intelligence Committee had a delegation that myself and Senator Paterson went to Washington back in February and they were very constructive meetings and we discussed those. The commentary around the US Republic – throughout its history there have been major convulsions, existential, if you like, around the US Republic. The Civil War, the unrest in the thirties before FDR took control. The riots in the 60s and the breakdown of civic society there. The Vietnam war and the protests. But every time in US history, the US has managed to revitalise itself and take the next step in its story. I’m hoping that and hopeful that this will happen again because the US is going through a difficult period. I think the question, the unanswered question, Kieran is whether some the damage that has been done to the US system, the democracy, the democratic institutions, the judiciary society over the last three or four years particularly, is damage that is irreversible? And that’s the concern that we have. I would like to think I’m more hopeful, now that the US will get over this difficult period and once again show that the kind of leadership that has been beneficial to us here in the Indo-Pacific and the signs are good on that under the Biden administration, but they do have a lot of challenges

GILBERT: Yeah, indeed and as you as you rightly point out there, the Biden administration – re-engaging with the region, and it’s in our interests that the United States continue to do so. There’s no doubt about that, is there?

KHALIL: Yeah, it’s in our interests, of course that the US plays a very significant role in the Indo-Pacific and it has to be more than just that military-security guarantor role, which it has played so effectively over the last several decades, which has allowed, by the way, Asian economies to flourish and for all of us to prosper. It has to be more than that, it has to be a provision of economic engagement as well and that’s something that has started with the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that the Biden administration has released so that the US can provide alternatives to, frankly things like the BRI – those kind of options that South-East Asian nations will have to engage with the US, have to be on the table, they have to be real, they to be substantive and their engagement in the region and with Ambassador Kennedy joining us here Canberra, they know how important the Indo-Pacific is. The US has always been a Pacific power as such and there has been over the years, probably a bit of tension where there’s been a lot more attention paid to the Atlantic and Europe and they have and they should with the Ukraine war, but they recognise absolute critical existential importance of meeting those challenges in the Indo-Pacific for their nation and for all of us.

GILBERT: Peter Khalil, appreciate it. Thanks for your analysis. Talk to you soon.