Senator Rex Patrick today called on the South Australian Government to undertake a comprehensive review of its relations China including contacts with the Chinese Consulate-General in Adelaide.
"Rigorous scrutiny of SA’s relationship with China is required in the light of significant changes in Australia’s relationship with Beijing and the threat of Chinese espionage and political interference in Australia," Senator Patrick said.
"While much attention has been paid to the Victorian Government’s agreement to join China’s Belt and Road initiative, it is clear that the South Australian Government has been no less active in courting the People’s Republic of China."
"Premier Steven Marshall repeatedly expressed his intention to make China his Government’s number one trade priority. Premier Marshall has been as committed to boosting relations with China as his Victorian counterpart Dan Andrews, only without the formality of a written agreement."
"Circumstances have now changed. Australia’s bilateral relationship with China has deteriorated with Beijing targeting South Australian wheat and barley growers in the arbitrary use of tariff sanctions."
"Moreover the Defence Department’s assessment that there are “extreme” foreign espionage threats to defence activities in SA shows that a close embrace of China could seriously compromise our state’s role as Australia’s leading defence industry and space technology centre."
"The large Chinese consular presence in Adelaide is clearly at odds with Australia’s national security, and SA’s defence industry role."
"The SA Government should urgently obtain ASIO security advice concerning contacts between Chinese consular officials and SA Government agencies, and security threats to SA’s defence and space technology sectors."
“A wider reset of SA’s relations with China is also required," Senator Patrick said.
Following the election of the Liberal state government in March 2018, Mr Marshall placed much emphasis on boosting SA’s ties with China.
The Premier met with Chinese Ambassador Jingye Cheng to express his strong desire to increase SA exports to China. Mr Marshall made China the designation of his first overseas travel as Premier, a mission he described as ‘a very, very productive trip’, and the SA Government established a new South Australian trade office in Shanghai.
The Liberal Government also established close liaison with the Chinese Consulate-General in Adelaide. This has included many meetings between the Consulate and SA Government officials with the Premier leading the way.
In June 2018, for example, Premier Marshall met then acting Chinese Consul-General Yuncai Mei. According to the Chinese account of the meeting, Mr Mei introduced Mr Marshall to ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era in realizing the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.’ The Premier reportedly ‘highly praised China's remarkable achievements in development’ and said his government attached ‘great importance to the development of relations with China.’
In September 2019, Premier Marshall joined Consul-General Lanjing He at a China Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Adelaide. According to the Chinese account of the meeting, the Premier again emphasised he was giving ‘high priority’ to China, and he applauded ‘the important role the Chinese Consulate-General has played in promoting exchanges and cooperation between the two sides.’
The Consulate-General’s website indicates numerous other contacts with members of the Marshall Government and SA Government officials. For example in April 2019 Assistant Minister to the Premier Jing Lee invited all Chinese consular officers in Adelaide to a tour of the South Australian Parliament, saying that the SA Government ‘would be willing to work together with the Chinese side to continuously strengthen exchanges and cooperation in various fields.’
"It is clear that the SA Government needs to urgently reset its relationship with China," Senator Patrick said. "An uncritical pursuit of official and business contacts cannot be continued. The SA Government should not have opened the door to a level of engagement that could easily provide cover for covert Chinese Government activities."
"The SA Government needs to ensure that any future dealings with Chinese diplomatic and consular representatives do not in any way facilitate activities that might compromise Australia’s national security."
"SA’s trade relationship with China is and will remain important in the future; but our state’s vital role in Australia’s defence and national security must not be compromised."