BEN FORDHAM: And he's on the line. Steve Ciobo, good afternoon.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good afternoon, Ben.
BEN FORDHAM: It is a difficult balance, isn't it? I mean, I know that you probably have to be diplomatic and say, "No, it's all sunshine and rainbows and lollipops," but it's not that simple, is it?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Ben, I don't think it's sort of that binary, to be honest. And what I mean by that is it's not sort of good or bad. The fact is that Australia and China do have a very broad and deep trading and investment relationship. They are our biggest trading partner, $175 billion worth of two way trade between us. We're big investors in each other's countries and there are literally tens of thousands of jobs in Australia that rely on us having good trade relations with China. Having said all of that, there are also areas where we don't agree. And both China and Australia acknowledge there are areas where we don't agree. What's important is where we do have areas where we disagree, that we do that in a respectful way, acknowledge that there are differences, and are mindful of each other's sovereignty in relation to those differences.
BEN FORDHAM: Yeah, how do we balance the trade factors with some of those other, I suppose, security concerns and the expansion of China in the region? We know that, obviously, they've been in discussions with Vanuatu about setting up a military base there. And then you've got the militarization of the South China Sea and a lot of territories that are claimed by other nations. I mean, we don't want to turn a blind eye to those things either, right?
STEVEN CIOBO: Every time I've had a meeting in China, they have indicated to me repeatedly that China is wanting to pursue a peaceful, stable, and prosperous region. That is certainly a value set that, or an approach that Australia shares. Now, where, from time to time, we see actions that we don't agree with, we say that. That goes back to the point I made earlier about doing that in a respectful way, mindful of each other's sovereignty, but also, I mean let's not pretend that we have to see eye to eye about everything, because we don't. I mean, guess what? You know, there are areas where we have differences with the United States. There's areas where we have differences with Japan, areas where we have differences with Korea, areas where we have differences with Indonesia. There's nothing new about any of that. That happens. It's just that, from time to time, it attracts a lot of attention.
BEN FORDHAM: Do you think that there's a paranoia about China in some circles?
STEVEN CIOBO: I do. I think that there is a predisposition among some to blow up incidents and events and make them bigger than they ought to be. And frankly, that's on both sides. People have spoken about the Global Times' editorial, a newspaper in China, and the editorial of that newspaper and some of the things that it's said. We see examples in Australian media where, I think, it goes well and truly over and above what's actually taking place. What I've sought to do, Ben, is be a voice of reason, to highlight that, yes, there are trade irritants from time to time, but when you actually look at the relationship in totality, when you look at what's happening with trade volumes, with trade values, what we're seeing is really strong growth, and I actually think that says a lot about the strength of the relationship, and the fact that it actually is a mature relationship between our countries.
BEN FORDHAM: I know of some people, Chinese businessmen based in Australia, who have said to me that the Sam Dastyari thing did cause a lot of concern back in China. And that might be an example where you say there might be a little bit of paranoia on both sides because, really, the Australian reaction to all of that, I think, was quite fair because the idea that an Australian politician would be, you know, sprouting views that are at odds with his own party, based on the fact that he had a special relationship with a Chinese donor who might've had links to the Communist party. That was fair to call that out, but to China, I mean, they really saw that as anti-China as opposed to, for most people, it was anti-Sam Dastyari and his conduct.
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, it was about Sam Dastyari absolutely. But you know Ben, I'm not sure and certainly as Australia's Trade Minister and Australia's Tourism, Investment Minister, I don't wanna spend time raking over the coals of what happened last year.
BEN FORDHAM: Sure.
STEVEN CIOBO: My focus is to concentrate on those areas, as I've said, where we are seeing real strength in the relationship. I wanna make sure that we have a more stable and prosperous, and peaceful region-
BEN FORDHAM: Mm-hmm.
STEVEN CIOBO: And I actually believe that trade investment can deliver that outcome.
BEN FORDHAM: Alright, let me ask you about the comments that've been made by the Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe, where he talks about our relations and China's rising debt and the fact this may impact us down the track. He says, "As the economic relationship between our two countries broadens and deepens," and you've been reflecting on that and that's only gonna get bigger. He says, "developments in China are having a material impact on more and more Australian industries."
STEVEN CIOBO: Well look, I mean, Philip Lowe is a terrific RBA Governor. And I think that the speech he gave last night was typically thoughtful and insightful, I did note in his comments that he also specifically mentioned that the possible adverse consequences of China's growth and China's debt are not inevitable. In other words, what he's specifically said is that it's not automatic that there will be a problem from this debt. In fact, he actually made the point that China can learn from, learn the lessons of other countries and avoid that outcome.
BEN FORDHAM: Are we relying too much on China for our own prosperity?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well it's not about China, I mean China's our largest trading partner, but-
BEN FORDHAM: Well let's talk about Chinese tourists, Chinese students, I mean Chinese students make up a third of our education exports.
STEVEN CIOBO: Yep.
BEN FORDHAM: I mean that's a big chunk.
STEVEN CIOBO: Yeah, but this is the point that I was about to say Ben, which is that it's that old adage about 'you don't wanna put all your eggs in one basket'. Now, I've prefaced that by saying that this is not about China because this is not about China. This is about Australia being smart, to make sure that we have diversified economic interests which serve our country well. And that's precisely the reason why the Coalition has been so focused on making sure we can open up as many new trade deals as we can. Because, every time we do one of these export trade deals, we're driving economic growth in this country. We're driving jobs in this country. You know, right now, Ben, we have under negotiation export trade deals with Indonesia, Hong Kong, countries like Mexico, Columbia, Chile, and Peru. We're about to start a trade export trade deal with the UK and one with the European Union and we're having discussions with India, as well. Now, you know, those are huge markets and this is all about making sure that we retain very diversified interests 'cause that is in our long-term national interest.
BEN FORDHAM: Alright, we should have a conversation about some of those upcoming trade deals at a later date. But just lastly on China because that was the focus of the conversation today. I did see one report, I believe it was in the Australian newspaper, where they dubbed it the 'dumpling' incident and they said that while you were in China just recently that you were kind of given the cold shoulder at some of these gatherings where people were kind of making a lot of noise while you were trying to speak. And then there was another function where mysteriously, your microphone didn't work when you got up to speak. Were you given the cold shoulder while you were in China?
STEVEN CIOBO: So, this goes to what we were telling before about some people hyperventilating, you know, yes, at one of the dinners people were speaking through it. And let me let you in on a secret, Ben. It's not the first time for me, as a politician, I've had people talk through one of my speeches. So there was nothing particularly special about that. And the thing about the microphone not working well, that was news to me. The first I knew about that was when I read it in the paper.
BEN FORDHAM: Good to catch-up and let's chat soon about some of those upcoming trade deals, particularly with Europe. Steve Ciobo, the Trade Minister, joining us on the line.
- Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555