Finance Minister Simon Birmingham blasted Labor heavyweight Paul Keating’s pro-China criticism of the Coalition’s Indo-Pacific defense decisions, calling his comments “frankly dangerous”.
Former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating’s scathing assessment of the Morrison government’s policy decisions in the Indo-Pacific was called short-term, narrow and dangerous by Finance Minister Simon Birmingham.
Speaking to Sky News Australia on Friday, the senior Liberal official urged the Labor Party to be “very clear and unequivocal” in rejecting Mr Keating’s comments.
“I think Paul Keating’s remarks were downright dangerous and the Labor Party should be very clear and unequivocal to ensure that they reject these remarks,” he said.
Mr Birmingham’s comments come after Mr Keating gave a fiery speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday, where he criticized the government’s approach to China and major international partnerships with the US and UK .
Mr. Keating said China was “too big and too central to be ostracized” and that engaging with the Asian superpower would form a “better framework” to serve Australia’s national interests.
“But no, we are not happy to be in the region, we are still trying to find our safety in Asia rather than Asia,” Keating said.
“I have always believed that engaging with China, and absorbing the region, would establish a better framework for China and the United States, including Australia.
“China is now so big and will become so big that it will have no precedent in modern economic or social history.
Mr Birmingham suggested that Mr Keating’s policy framework would favor trade results at the expense of democratic values.
“This concept that we should be embracing, whatever it is, that China basically puffs up and shrugs… is basically what Paul Keating has suggested,” he said.
“That we shouldn’t worry about whether or not they are undermining democracy in our region. We should not worry about whether or not there is a breach of international rules and standards.
“There should be no consideration for those things we should just go about business and put it all aside.
“This is a very short-term, unique and narrow-minded approach, focusing only on business potential or results.
Birmingham highlighted Australia’s strategic leadership position in the Indo-Pacific amid escalating tensions between China and the United States.
He said the national sovereignty of Australia and “all the nations” in the region should be a priority for the federal government.
The preservation of international rules and standards in terms of access to shipping lanes and enhancing safety and security were also cited by Mr Birmingham as important for the well-being of the Indo-Pacific.
His comments echoed those of Prime Minister Scott Morrison who called Mr Keating’s tirade “irrelevant” in an interview Thursday.
“He certainly disagrees with our government’s policy, and we certainly don’t share that point of view,” he told The Today Show.
“As people know, we have taken a very strong position here in the Indo-Pacific and we have taken a very strong position to defend Australia’s interests.
“We have worked closely with our allies and partners across the region, not just the United States, but of course Japan and India and the many ASEAN countries we work closely with. . “
Mr. Keating told the National Press Club that the government’s eight nuclear submarines are just “toothpicks” against Chinese military forces.
“A handful of toothpicks on a mountain,” Mr. Keating told the National Press Club on Wednesday.
His remarks come after Australia canceled a French naval group’s $ 90 billion submarine contract in favor of nuclear submarines in alliance with the UK and US.
United States National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan hit back at claims similar to those made by Mr. Keating at the Lowy 2021 conference.
It has been suggested that the United States does not have the “permanent power” to compete with China in the Indo-Pacific, as it is not a “resident power” in the region.
“Well, first of all, we’re a resident power in the Indo-Pacific. You know, we reside as far west as Guam, in terms of actual American territory.
“We reside with a substantial long-term troop presence in Japan, Korea, Australia.
“We have been a resident power in the Indo-Pacific for decades. It is at the heart of our status as a geopolitical actor. It is fundamental for our identity.
“President Biden has been very clear with our allies, as with our competitors, that the United States is a Pacific nation, has been a Pacific nation, and always will be a Pacific nation,” Sullivan said.