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24 November 2020

Independent Senator Rex Patrick has today criticised the Federal Coalition Government’s decision to welcome the Chinese Government expression of interest in joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).  

“The Morrison Government has been quite foolish in being so quick to welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping’s latest geopolitical ambition at a time when China is engaged in in a punitive and coercive trade campaign against Australia”, Senator Patrick said. “In their desperation to ease tensions, the Government has conceded an important position to Australia’s disadvantage.”  

“Chinese ministers refuse to interact with their Australian counterparts and the Chinese Embassy in Canberra last week released a 14-point diktat, laying down their demands for Australia to kowtow before there is any improvement in bilateral relations.”

“These circumstances make the Morrison Government’s expression of in-principle support for Chinese accession to the CPTPP quite remarkable. It weakens Australia’s long-term negotiating position on an issue where, unusually, we are in a position to veto China’s ambitions.”

“Beijing will no doubt view the Morrison Government’s response as a concession, and they will press for more.”

Article 5 of the CPTPP states that ‘any State or separate customs territory may accede to this Agreement, subject to such terms and conditions as may be agreed between the Parties and that State or separate customs territory.’ It would require a consensus between the current CPTPP partners, including Australia’s agreement, for China to join.

Senator Patrick said, “The original TPP partnership was advocated by the United States, Australia and other Asia-Pacific countries as both a economic opportunity and as a counterbalance China’s desire to dominate regional trade relationships.”

“President Xi’s new initiative is very clearly designed to exploit the geopolitical failure of the Trump Administration in walking away form the TPP. Australia should focus on encouraging the incoming US Biden Administration to engage with the TPP and CPTPP.”  

“It is noteworthy that in a shift from earlier Chinese wariness about the original TPP agreement, Chinese state controlled media are now portraying Chinese interest in the CPTTP as a means to strengthen China’s regional trade position; especially to provide new opportunities for China’s service sectors and digital economy, including ending national security restrictions on Chinese companies such as Huawei.” 

“Any Australian positioning in relation to China’s new enthusiasm for the CPTPP should be the subject of close consultation and coordination with our allies, especially Japan and the United States.” 

Most importantly, Australia should not engage with, let alone encourage, China’s latest initiative until such time as Beijing drops its current trade coercion campaign and engages bilaterally on a basis of mutual respect.” 

“Why would one throw away a good card in your hand? Scott Morrison is obviously no poker player.”