Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 05:21 | SYDNEY
Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 05:21 | SYDNEY

China declares diplomatic ceasefire


Graeme Dobell

2 November 2009 14:37

China has called a halt to its diplomatic offensive against Australia. Read the terms of the ceasefire — perhaps even armistice — in the unusual Australia-China joint statement issued after the talks between Kevin Rudd and China's Vice Premier, Li Keqiang.

The statement has to be understood in the context of the bombast and official snubs dished out by Beijing in July, August and September. In the transition from row to resolution, Canberra has not had to offer a symbolic kow tow. The language is that of a reasonably balanced deal, with concepts such as mutual respect and equality getting special mention.

One name is noticeably absent from the document: that of jailed Australian business executive, Stern Hu. Perhaps China wasn't prepared to include what it would see as a legal matter in a truce couched in geo-political and geo-economic terms. From the Canberra side, the deal may assist Stern Hu even if he isn't mentioned. It will help that Australian Ministers will again be able to talk to Chinese Ministers.

Remember that this diplomatic tantrum could only be launched with the full approval of China's leadership. And it could only conclude with a signal from that same leadership. The challenge for Canberra was to negotiate the terms. So let's consider the five points in the Australia-China joint statement, interpreting these as the ceasefire agreement:

1. The set-up paragraph: Australia and China agreed on the 'great potential and prospects' for what is described as a 'comprehensive relationship.' China and Australia will  promote the 'long-term, sound and steady growth of the comprehensive and cooperative relationship on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.'

Canberra translation: We heard you yelling at us. You've had your say, now please consider your enduring interests — and show some respect.

2. The key paragraph on the end of the conflict: 'The two sides noted their different national conditions could lead to differences of one type or another. The two sides should respect and take into full consideration the core interests and major concerns of each other, properly handle differences and sensitive issues in accordance with the principles of mutual respect, non-interference and equality…' Australia then reiterated its one-China position on Taiwan, but more pointedly offered an explicit statement of respect for 'China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, including in relation to Tibet and Xinjiang'.

Canberra translation: No Kevin Rudd meeting with the Dalai Lama and no more visits for a while by Uighur leaders. But as with paragraph 1: show some respect.

3. The geo-economics paragraph, covering market principles, Chinese investment and the huge benefits for each side of the trade synergies: 'Recognising that the combined GDP of our two economies is greater than US$5 trillion, the two sides agreed that China and Australia enjoy strong economic complementarity, and it serves the common interests of both sides to advance economic, trade and investment cooperation on the basis of reciprocity and mutual benefit.'

Canberra translation: Your GDP is US$4.4 trillion. Our GDP is US$1.01 trillion. Four of us to one of you — you're bigger but we still count.

Also in the geo-economics paragraph, the free trade agreement. The negotiations on a free trade deal are four years old. Time to try again, the statement suggests, and Australia still gets acceptance of its language about a 'comprehensive, high quality, balanced and mutually beneficial' deal.

Canberra translation: We won't settle for the trade deal you foisted on the ASEANs, and we need a much broader deal than the Kiwis achieved. The Howard Government started this agonising process so there's not too much political pain for us if it drags on. Show some political will and kick your officials. If you're not up to it, we'll go elsewhere and see if Japan or South Korea can do 'comprehensive and high quality.'

Then comes the Foreign Investment Review Board bit: 'The Australian side stated in clear terms that it welcomes investment from China, as China welcomes investment from Australia. Australia sees China's increased investment interest as a positive development that will further consolidate the Australia-China economic relationship.'

Canberra translation: Read our lips. W.E.L.C.O.M.E.S!

4. The geopolitical clause: 'The two sides agreed that China and Australia share important common interests in promoting peace, stability and development in the Asia-Pacific region.' The usual institutions get a mention: the UN, G20, APEC, the East Asia Summit, and the Pacific Islands Forum.  Then a point for Rudd's architectural efforts: 'The Chinese side welcomes Australia's Asia-Pacific community initiative and will send a senior Chinese delegation to the international one-and-a-half track conference convened by the Australian Prime Minister in Sydney in December for the purpose of exploring the Asia-Pacific community concept for the future.'

Canberra translation: I won’t mention your military expansion if you don't mention my White Paper.

5. The people-to-people clause: Education, culture, sports, tourism and the media (yes, journalists are people too!). Along with business we are going to do culture: the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, the Year of Australian Culture in China in 2010-11 and the Year of Chinese Culture in Australia in 2011-12.

Canberra translation: On culture and language, the Prime Minister handles his own translation.

Photo by Flickr user mushin_schilling, used under a Creative commons license.