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18th November 2019

SAS Group Directors Larry Anthony and Victoria Qiu and Senior Consultant Paddy Hintz attended The Australian newspaper’s Strategic Forum on China. The forum provided some much needed and level-headed insight into the art of balancing opportunity against risk when it comes to this important trading relationship and the shadow cast by intense US-China rivalry.

Featuring keynotes and discussions from Australian business and political heavyweights, including former Prime Minister Paul Keating and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, the forum was held amid concerns over China denying entry visas to Coalition MPs Andrew Hastie, chairman of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, and his colleague James Paterson. Escalating violence in Hong Kong also loomed in the background.

It featured heavily in the day’s news cycle.

The Australian's economics editor Adam Creighton told Sky News the conference mood overall was one of cautious optimism. “We can maintain our independence, but we can also benefit from the Chinese trading relationship, which continues to grow,” he said.

But it’s difficult to depict the tone of the day better than The Australian’s National Security Editor, Paul Maley:

“Disputes over trade, human rights, foreign interference — as well as the occasional point of common interest — are not bumps on the road to a normalised relationship with China, they are the relationship with China.

“If there was a single point of agreement among panellists at The Australian’s Strategic Forum on China on Monday it was this: the China of today is vastly different from the China of a decade ago.

“China in the twilight of 2019 is richer, more powerful and more politically self-assured than it has ever been.’’

The Treasurer pointed out that Australia and its business leaders need not choose between the US and China, a sentiment supported by SAS Director Larry Anthony on the day in a Tweet shared on the big screen at the forum. But for China, rising debt levels and the implications of an ageing population would need to be addressed.

Paul Keating argued Australia’s foreign policy lacked “any strategic realism” and was leaving the nation unable to manage the rise of China effectively. He said Australia should be actively involved in creating a web of co-operative regional ties and the assumption that China’s rise was incompatible with US interests was not correct.

Martin Parkinson, former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, said Australia was being engaged in a negotiation with China about our future sovereignty.

Parkinson said China had ignored rules it didn’t like in the South China Sea and had created new institutions to use economic leverage over neighbouring countries.

But there was a risk in placing too much weight in the legitimate security concerns associated with China’s rise at the expense of “the economic potential, to say nothing of the Chinese government’s phenomenal achievement in lifting some 700 million people out of agrarian poverty and into the urban middle classes”.

Parkinson also disputed conventional wisdom that “China has us over a barrel”, pointing out that China also benefits from its trading relationship with Australia.

The Treasurer said Australia must be clear and consistent when dealing with China. Disagreement over foreign investment, human rights and other questions was inevitable but being consistent was the key to ­advancing the national interest.

Keating summarised the current conflict between the US and China, saying that: “Big states are rude and nasty.  But that does not mean we can afford not to deal with them.’’

Larry Tweet China Forum

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