Briefing MONTHLY #19 | July 2019 – Asia Society Australia

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and PNG Prime Minister James Marape attend the NRL. Image: NRL


It took only two weeks for Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape to go from rugby mate of Prime Minister Scott Morrison to a riverboat gambler on new funding for his country. The new leader was given the full diplomatic red-carpet treatment on his first visit as PM to Australia, delivering this thoughtful speech to the Lowy Institute and taking in a Cronulla Sharks game with Morrison. Australian policy towards PNG started out similarly well when former PM Peter O’Neill took over in 2011 and mostly continued despite O’Neill’s domestic controversies. But Marape’s reported preparedness to contemplate a deal with China to refinance the country’s entire debt (since partly denied) so soon after getting such serious treatment in Australia has raised the uncertainties about the relationship to new levels. See Ben Packham’s coverage of the latest PNG financial saga here. And the Lowy Institute’s Jonathan Pryke here.


China is set to overtake the US as Australia’s main university research collaborator over the next year, according to a survey of Australian peer-reviewed academic journal articles which included a co-author affiliated with a Chinese institution. The Australia China Relations Institute report comes amid the growing debate about whether China is misusing its foreign university research collaboration to access sensitive military research. The report says that in 1998, only one percent of Australian peer-reviewed journal articles included a Chinese co-author but by last year this had risen to 2018, just behind US research collaboration. It says: “Despite the growing importance of collaboration with China for Australia, the future trajectory is uncertain, reflecting concerns around the security and ethnical outcomes of joint research, the erosion of academic freedom in China and funding pressures on Australian universities.”


The growing tension over how to manage Australia’s strategic and economic engagement with China has now prompted a call to split trade policy out of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Former top trade negotiator Alan Oxley and Australian Industry Group Chief Executive Innes Willox say such a move would allow Australia to pursue greater economic engagement with China free of other strategic considerations. “Australia needs a way to talk openly with China — our biggest trading partner — about trade. Differences over security have shut out our officials in Beijing for several years, turning them from players into passengers,” they wrote in The Australian Financial Review.The proposal underlines the growing flux in the policy making establishment over how to balance economic and security interests with some efforts to achieve greater integration.


How the debate about whether China represents a threat similar to Nazi Germany has unfolded within the federal government.

Like the French (before World War 2) Australia has failed to see how mobile our authoritarian neighbour (China) has become” Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security Chairman Andrew Hastie

“I thought it was a bit clumsy and inappropriate. It detracts from what — broadly — is an important conversation” Finance Minister Matthias Corman

“There’s no sense pretending that there’s nothing to see here” Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton

“I would certainly encourage any colleague or indeed anybody making comments around sensitive foreign policy matters to pose a couple of questions … Is it helpful to Australia’s national interests” Trade Minister Simon Birmingham

“We need to remove the blinkers from our eyes, recognise reality, and act accordingly” NSW backbencher Dave Sharma

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