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Underestimate rise of "authoritarian" China at our peril: senior Lib

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The chair of parliament’s powerful security and intelligence committee has warned Australia against underestimating China, pointing to the experience of Europe in the face of an aggressive Nazi Germany.

 

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Federal Liberal MP Andrew Hastie says Australia will face its biggest democratic, economic and security test over the next decade as China and the US compete for global dominance.

The West once believed economic liberalisation would naturally lead to China becoming a democracy, just as the French believed steel and concrete forts would guard against Germany in 1940.

“But their thinking failed catastrophically. The French had failed to appreciate the evolution of mobile warfare,” Mr Hastie wrote in an opinion piece published on Thursday in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“Like the French, Australia has failed to see how mobile our authoritarian neighbour has become.”

Labor frontbencher Jim Chalmers said Mr Hastie’s intervention was extreme, overblown and unwelcome.

He said both major parties had to navigate complex economic and national security issues when managing the relationship with China.

“This kind of intervention makes that harder, not easier,” he told ABC Radio National.

Chalmers used Hastie’s comments to try to highlight a split in the government over foreign policy.

“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.

Hastie, a former SAS captain, said Australia had ignored the role of ideology in communist China’s push for influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

“We keep using our own categories to understand its actions, such as its motivations for building ports and roads, rather than those used by the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.

He noted western commentators once believed Josef Stalin’s Soviet Russia was the “rational actions of a realist great power”.

“We must be intellectually honest and take the Chinese leadership at its word,” he wrote of President Xi Jinping’s speeches referencing Marxist-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought.

Immigration Minister David Coleman said Australia had an important economic relationship with China.

“There are matters on which we obviously disagree with China but we continue to work very closely together on a whole range of issues,” he told Sky News.

Australia faces a delicate diplomatic balancing act with the US, the nation’s closest strategic ally, and major trade partner China, going toe-to-toe in a trade war.

Hastie said it was impossible to forsake America or disengage from China.

“The next decade will test our democratic values, our economy, our alliances and our security like no other time in Australian history,” the Liberal backbencher wrote.

Hastie says “choices will be made for us” if Australia fails to grasp the challenges across politics, education, civil society and business.

-AAP

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