Canberra still has work to do: China Daily editorial
In an apparent move to mitigate the negative impact of his home affairs minister's latest anti-China remarks, the Australia prime minister sought to play down the skirmish they sparked by saying on Saturday that the comments of the two sides simply reflect the differences between the two countries.
On Friday, Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton lashed out at China, alleging that Australia was not going to allow the theft of intellectual property, the hacking of government or non-government organizations, or university students to be unduly influenced by China.
His remarks immediately drew strong opposition from China as none of them was based on fact or reason. To most observers, it seemed that Dutton was simply rehashing the tired old clichés about the so-called theft of intellectual property and hacking that the United States likes to levy against China.
As to the accusation about Chinese students, Dutton was confusing right with wrong: Even average Australian people know how much Chinese students in Australia, the biggest presence of international students in the country, have contributed to the Australian economy.
Dutton represents a clique of alt-right forces in Canberra which seems always ready to blame China for Australia's own problems or tries fishing for its own political gains by criticizing China. To some Australian politicians and media, it seems bashing China is the means to show their political correctness.
Morrison won credit last month among those who are willing to see China-Australia ties on a friendly track when he sent an unmistakable message to US President Donald Trump that China is a partner, not a threat, to Australia.
How he dealt with Dutton's remarks shows he is consistent in this stance and does not want more damage to be done to bilateral ties. But the ball remains in Canberra's court. To improve ties with its biggest trading partner, it needs to distance itself from irresponsible remarks like those from Dutton and at the same time step up efforts that facilitate positive interaction with China.
Hence, for Morrison, playing down Dutton's controversial remarks is not enough if he really wants to improve Australia's ties with China. He needs to build more consensuses among the ranks of his government and encourage a more objective view of China in Australian society.