PM’s surprising Xi Jinping admission
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed he hasn't spoken to his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, for more than 12 months at a virtual event in the US.
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, Mr Morrison told moderator Margaret Brennan about Australia's response to the coronavirus pandemic, increasing instability in the Asia Pacific region and the global inquiry into the source of COVID-19 that Australia led calls for.
When asked "when is the last time you spoke with Xi Jinping?" in light of the range of hot button geopolitical issues affecting Australia and China, the Prime Minister said it had not been since the G20 meeting in Japan in June 2019.
"It was at the G20 last year," he confirmed, before the talk moved on.
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However Brennan later returned to the subject, asking "why you haven't spoken to Xi Jinping since last year?"
The Prime Minister replied that "there hasn't been an opportunity to do so. But the welcome and the invitation for such a discussion is always there from our perspective."
He said he had spoken to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at a leaders dialogue in Bangkok outside the East Asia Summit [in November 2019] and there had also been a "continuation of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Leadership Dialogues over this period and so that's important."
"But look, I don't get hung up on these things, to be honest, Margaret. The phone, the phone is there, it works. And obviously, I mean, we've been engaging with countries quite consistently. We have engagements through our embassies, those sorts of things are of less concern to me. What matters is that the trading relationship, the economic relationship is able to be pursued. That is occurring. It has its frustrations from time to time."
Mr Morrison said Australia's objective is to maintain regional stability in the Indo-Pacific region in light of geopolitical factors, the COVID-19 pandemic and a global recession that is the greatest since the Great Depression.
However the fact the two leaders have not spoken directly in over 12 months comes as somewhat of a surprise given the coronavirus pandemic that began in Wuhan, China and other high-profile issues such as Australia's decision to suspend is extradition treaty with Hong Kong following a new National Security Law affecting the territory.
Australia has recently announced a $270 billion increase in military spending to counter a more aggressive China in the Pacific region. China has taken swipes at Australia after it suggested a global inquiry into the source of the pandemic by banning some live meat exports and placing tariffs on barley, as well as saying Australia has a problem with racism in society.
On the issue of the World Health Organisation panel charged with investigating the source of the pandemic and China's early response, Mr Morrison said he welcomed the appointment of former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian leader Ellen Sirleaf as leaders, and did not feel an Australian needed to lead the team in order to find the results credible.
"Whether we're formally part of the process or not is really not our concern," he said.
"We don't consider that our direct participation is a necessary prerequisite for that to be a credible process. I mean that would be an arrogant thing to view, to say from Australia's point of view that is not how we're wired. But we welcome how it started. But whether it, whether it achieves its job well, that'll be determined by the job it does."
The Prime Minister's office has been contacted for comment.
Originally published as PM's surprising Xi Jinping admission