Former Defence Force chief Angus Houston says ‘‘loose talk’’ by MPs has made tensions with China worse than necessary and has called for an urgent reset in the relationship between Canberra and Beijing. China is our partner. China is not an enemy. Let’s get that straight.
Addressing a Lowy Institute virtual seminar with former US secretary of Defence James Mattis, Sir Angus said the relationship was in a ‘‘difficult position’’ but Australia needed China for its economic recovery.
‘‘I think we need to take a hard look at our relationship with China. I think we need a reset, we need a circuit breaker because really if we are going to come out of this recession . . . we need China.
‘‘Why? We are integrated into the Chinese economy and fundamentally we need to be able to work effectively with them. They are going to be a force that we have to deal with so [we’d] better work out the best way to work with them.’’
Sir Angus said the government’s 2018 decision to ban Huawei from taking part in the roll-out of the 5G network had triggered the plunge in relations.
However, ‘‘loose talk’’ in Australia ‘‘basically made the circumstances a little worse than they needed to be’’.
‘‘China is our partner. China is not an enemy. Let’s get that straight,’’ he said.
‘‘Some of the messaging we have seen from elements in Australia, particularly in the Parliament, has been a little bit ill-disciplined.
‘‘I’ll probably take a hit for saying that, but the fact of the matter is in the sensitive relationship we have, people should leave it to the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the trade ministers, the people who are carrying the responsibilities for making statements and messaging about China.’’
Andrew Tillett. Political correspondent. AFR