The PM’s Perplexing Pivot to China

The PM’s Perplexing Pivot to China, by Tony Thomas.

Is Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pivoting to China and away from the US alliance?  It may seem silly to ask, except that he’s been sending subtle signals to that effect for years.

Anonymous background paper on Turnbull:

During the Abbott era, Turnbull showed enthusiasm for Chinese communications giant Huawei to bid for roles in the National Broadband Project. Abbott scotched that proposal, which had flown in the face of security warnings from intelligence agencies.

An anonymous background paper has compiled evidence of Turnbull’s Sinophilia. I do not know who the report’s authors are or their specific roles. I am reliably informed they have worked extensively in Washington and other allied capitals and are well connected with the Australian business and national security communities. There is no classified material in these sources’ document. I have dealt with the authors through an intermediary, a retired senior federal bureaucrat I’ve known professionally for thirty years.

The paper concludes, “A strong case can be made that the Turnbull Government is re-orienting Australia’s foreign and security policy away from the country’s traditional allies and closer to China. Key Americans and Japanese are not amused but Beijing appears to be delighted…Turnbull feels an affinity and deep respect for China and is comfortable spruiking Beijing’s views and wishes.”

What effect might this have on Australia?

While Turnbull has good economic knowledge about China, he is poorly informed and perhaps uninterested in Chinese security and defence developments and behavior, and he often makes errors of fact and serious errors of judgement, the authors say.

Nevertheless, he appears undaunted, even arrogant, in his opinions. Never one to hide his light under a bushel, the authors’ perceive Turnbull as confident he has the complete and fully correct understanding of China, while Americans, Japanese and others with alternative views do not.

He persists in directing actions and inactions which cool Australia’s security relationship with the US and bolster ties with China. Major changes in Australian foreign and security policy are clearly under way through incremental steps. “It is notable, however, that Turnbull has not yet attempted to convince the Australian public that such a marked shift is warranted or desirable,” they say.

Family ties:

As a merchant banker/consultant in the 1990s and early 2000s, Turnbull’s biggest funding successes were in China, such as a zinc mine launch in Hubei Province. In that phase he made some enduring relationships with senior Chinese officials and Communist Party members.

Turnbull’s son, Alex, is a Mandarin-speaking Sinophile with a long history of personal ties with Chinese peers of his age group, from teenage days to his Chinese wife from 2012, Yvonne Wang (Wang Yi Wen). He studied in Beijing and has been to China many times.

In conversation with intimates, Alex has expressed strong scepticism about US attitudes towards China. … In business, Alex followed his father into Goldman Sachs and from 2004-15 worked mainly on investment, equity and distressed credit in Asian companies, including Chinese entities. For several years he was based in Hong Kong developing good relations with senior Chinese business, government and party members. His wife, Yvonne Wang, is a Chinese citizen and public relations adviser for Trip Adviser.

hat-tip Stephen Neil