China has accused Liberal MP Andrew Hastie of pushing a “Cold-War mentality” after he compared the Western world’s failure to grapple with the emerging superpower with the failure to contain the Nazis.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison played down the remarks on Thursday, describing the former SAS captain’s views as ones he is free to hold as a backbencher.
“He’s entirely entitled to provide his perspective,” Mr Morrison said.
“We believe we can continue to manage these relationships together. But I don’t think anyone is in any way unaware of the challenges that present there and I say, to that end, I don’t think it’s really offering anything new.”
But despite Mr Morrison’s attempt to play down the remarks, Mr Hastie is not simply a backbencher.
He chairs the powerful parliamentary committee on intelligence and security matters, which regularly receives briefings from ASIO and intelligence agencies about the risk of foreign interference and China.
In an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Mr Hastie said argued that he regarded the rise of China as of greater strategic importance than the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the US.
“Like many people across the world, I saw 9/11 as the geopolitical moment that would shape the 21st century. It shaped the next decade of my own life. But I was wrong,” he said.
Mr Hastie noted the warnings of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that “the world has been asleep at the switch”.
“The West once believed that economic liberalisation would naturally lead to democratisation in China,” he said.
“This was our Maginot Line. It would keep us safe, just as the French believed their series of steel and concrete forts would guard them against the German advance in 1940. But their thinking failed catastrophically. The French had failed to appreciate the evolution of mobile warfare. Like the French, Australia has failed to see how mobile our authoritarian neighbour has become.
“The West has made this mistake before. Commentators once believed Stalin’s decisions were the rational actions of a realist great power. But the Princeton professor of history, Stephen Kotkin, found otherwise, after years of sifting through the archives of top Soviet meetings. He discovered that Stalin and his advisers ‘said the same things as they said in their propaganda … [using] all the Marxian categories, because it turns out the Communists were Communists!.
“Xi’s view of the future is one where capitalism will be eclipsed and “the consolidation of and development of the socialist system will require its own long period of history … it will require the tireless struggle of generations, up to 10 generations”.
The Chinese embassy said Mr Hastie’s remarks were unacceptable.
“We strongly deplore the Australian federal MP Andrew Hastie’s rhetoric on ‘China threat’, which lays bare his Cold-War mentality and ideological bias,” a spokesman said.
“History has proven and will continue to prove that China’s peaceful development is an opportunity, not a threat to the world.
“We urge certain Australian politicians to take off their “’coloured lens’ and view China’s development path in an objective and rational way. They should make efforts to promote mutual trust between China and Australia, instead of doing the opposite.”
Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said Mr Morrison should pull Mr Hastie into line.
“It is not enough to downplay Mr Hastie as a backbencher who is entitled to his views,” Senator Wong said.
“The China relationship is a critical relationship for Australia – it is both complex and consequential.”
Labor treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers said remarks were unhelpful.
“This kind of intervention makes that harder, not easier,” he told ABC Radio National.
“What Scott Morrison needs to do, is he needs to come out and say whether this is the government’s view or whether there are divisions in the government,” he said.
New ASIO boss
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister also announced a new ASIO boss, who will take over from ASIO director-general Duncan Lewis.
“The Governor-General has accepted the government’s recommendation to appoint Mr Mike Burgess to lead the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation as Director-General of Security,” Mr Morrison said on Thursday.
“Mr Burgess is currently Director-General of the Australian Signals Directorate, where he leads work across the spectrum of operations required of a contemporary signals intelligence and security agency, including foreign intelligence, cyber security and offensive operations in support of the Australian Government and Australian Defence Forces.”