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Episode 56: Foreign Interference & The Australia-China Relationship

28 Sep 2020
By Allan Gyngell AO FAIIA and Dr Darren Lim
A meeting between James N. Mattis of the United States, Marise Payne of Australia, and Itsunori Onodera of Japan at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Shangri-La, Singapore, June 2, 2018. The ministers met to build upon their partnership and to discuss defence strategies. Source: DoD Photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

Also discussed in the Australia in the World podcast: trilateral gatherings, the new Japanese prime minister, and Thai protests. 

Allan and Darren return once again to the Australia-China relationship to begin today’s episode. The particular topic is foreign interference, in the wake of accusations by the Chinese government that PRC journalists working in Australia had their homes raided by law enforcement in June. Darren characterises this as an instance where a domestic policy action—here a foreign interference investigation—has obvious foreign policy implications, and asks Allan whether in these types of cases the Australian government would brief foreign counterparts, and whether domestic law enforcement agencies might involve DFAT in their decision-making. A recent column by Paul Kelly of The Australian newspaper that is critical of the government’s policy towards China is brought into the conversation. Darren wonders whether it is impossible to have a coherent foreign policy approach towards China when domestic policy actions will inevitably affect the bilateral relationship. For Allan this is a relatively normal situation that all governments have to manage.

For the second half of the episode, the conversation begins on the topic of trilateral gatherings, in light of a recent meeting between Australia, India and France, and the possibility of a trilateral with India and Indonesia in the near future. What is the logic of having three countries meet, and what outcomes might follow? Darren asks Allan for his “theory” of trilateralism, and while Allan is reluctant, Darren is happy with his answer! Next, the two discuss the elevation of Suga Yoshihide to Prime Minister of Japan, and how he may contrast with his predecessor despite intending to continue with Abe Shinzo’s policies. And finally, Allan discusses why the protests against the monarchy and military in Thailand are important, despite minimal attention here in Australia.

We thank AIIA intern Mitchell McIntosh for his help with research and audio editing and XC Chong for research support. Thanks as always to Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.

Relevant Links

Stephen Dziedzic and Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop, “China slams Australian Government for ‘blatant irrational behaviour’ over foreign interference investigation”, ABC News, 9 September:

Paul Kelly, “Our China relationship needs help before it’s too late”, The Australian, 16 September 2020:

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “First Australia-India-France Trilateral Dialogue”, Media Release, 9 September 2020:

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “Third India-Australia-Indonesia Trilateral Senior Officials’ Dialogue”, Media Release, 18 December 2019:

Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Matthew Tostevin, “Thai protesters challenge monarchy as huge protests escalate”, Sydney Morning Herald, September 2020:

PM Scott Morrison interviewed by David Spears on Insiders, 20 September 2020:

Martin Gurri, The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority (Goodreads page):

Joseph Nye, Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump, Oxford University Press:

The Social Dilemma (Netflix):

Ezra Klein, “How technology is designed to bring out the worst in us”, Interview with Tristan Harris, 19 February 2018:

Ezra Klein, “You will love this conversation with Jaron Lanier, but I can’t describe it”, Interview with Jaron Lanier, 16 January 2018: