//
you're reading...
Australian Current Affairs

Australia has a secret China Unit


Dennis Richardson: Represents Defence on the China committee

Dennis Richardson: Represents Defence on the China committee

After years of policy confusion, a high-powered task force has been quietly pulling the China threads together in the federal bureaucracy.

Canberra‘s leading mandarins have formed a secret task force to cope with the unprecedented challenges of rising China.

The Committee of Secretaries on China was formed by a cabinet decision of December 2010 following criticism that the federal government was struggling to keep track of the reach and complexity of the nation that has come to dominate Australia’s trade accounts and is reconfiguring the geopolitical order.

The committee is chaired by the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Peter Varghese, and includes the heads of about 20 departments and agencies including Treasury, Defence and the Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation, according to several sources with direct knowledge.

There is no similar arrangement in Canberra for any other country, region or policy area.

The committee has been kept under tight wraps even though it has met roughly each quarter since mid-2011.

Fairfax understands it met on March 21 to co-ordinate priorities and tactics ahead of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s trip to China, which begins on Friday.

Richard Rigby, former head of the North Asia section of the Office of National Assessments, said he was relieved to hear of the task force’s existence because it showed Canberra was now treating China with the seriousness it demanded.

”There are others relationships that are extraordinarily important, the US and also Japan and increasingly India, but there’s nothing that looms quite in the way China does,” said Dr Rigby, who now heads the Australian National University‘s China Institute.

”There are just so many more questions about China, things that are unknown or unclear.

”Precisely where is China going? We simply don’t know and they don’t know. We are on a very steep learning curve.”

The China committee was established by Ms Gillard and the then foreign minister Kevin Rudd after gaps in analytical capacity and co-ordination were seen to contribute to a period of erratic policymaking and frayed bilateral relations in 2009.

Members include secretary at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ian Watt, Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson, Defence secretary Dennis Richardson, ASIO director David Irvine, Australian Federal Police commissioner Tony Negus, Office of National Assessments (ONA) director Allan Gyngell and Australia’s ambassador to China, Frances Adamson.

Also represented are the heads of health, education, customs and about a dozen other departments or agencies.

The impact of China is most visible on the economic front, where trade has risen more then tenfold in a decade to $128 billion last financial year.

China is the largest source of overseas students, with about 150,000 enrolments in 2012, and the second largest source of overseas visitors, with more than 626,000 arrivals in 2012.

But the membership of the committee demonstrates how the rise of China is affecting almost all areas of policymaking, from climate change to public health, education, agriculture, counter-espionage, money laundering and the narcotics trade.

”Whatever happens across the broad range of policymaking and economics in China, these days it impacts on Australia,” said Philippa Kelly, managing director of China Policy, a Beijing consultancy. ”Every capital in the region is grappling with the challenge of keeping track.”

The committee is the leading example of how the federal bureaucracy, like the corporate sector, is attempting to work with a limited China-savvy workforce and keep up with China’s rise.

In October the Asian Century White Paper highlighted gaps in capacity, leading to what one insider called a ”massive” revamp of training and recruitment to build China experience and knowledge and have it efficiently deployed across the bureaucracy.

The capacity program is being led by Australian Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick and Mr Watt.

Stephen Joske, an executive at Treasury and the ONA until 2008, said a failure to build and co-ordinate China capacity had contributed to policy confusion.

”There was a long period when outside DFAT and ONA the government wasn’t really resourcing China,” said Dr Joske, now a Beijing-based manager for Australian Super. ”And getting it all to work together in an environment where people changed jobs all the time was tricky.”

Senior officials say China capacity is still spread too thin, but is improving.

Last month the Department of Foreign Affairs introduced a policy that requires diplomats with Asian language training – which can require up to two years – to do repeat postings in the area of their linguistic expertise.

The intelligence agencies have been targeting graduates with China knowledge and language, Canberra sources say.

Treasury has expanded its presence in Beijing and created a ”China unit” in Canberra, now staffed by eight people. It has also conducted a China roundtable to tap into expertise outside the bureaucracy, although analysts say such efforts have not gone far enough.

”My concern with Canberra is they are too focused on themselves and they don’t reach out to business,” said Hans Hendrischke, Professor of Chinese Business and Management at the University of Sydney China Studies Centre.

Professor Hendrisch said a focus on bureaucratic rather than business outcomes had contributed to years of fruitless negotiations over a free trade agreement with China.

Source: The Age – Revealed: Canberra’s secret China unit
 

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

If you liked what you just read, click "Subscribe" to become a follower of the Craig Hill site. You will receive an email each time a new post is published.

Join 15,358 other followers

An archive of all my old posts

Follow me on Twitter

Most Recent Posts Post on My Blog About China: China News

China’s new aircraft carrier Fujian: Hit or miss 

China’s new aircraft carrier Fujian: Hit or miss 

While the United States was wrapping up its Valiant Shield 2022 exercise on 17 June, China launched its third aircraft carrier with all the fanfare. The launch was postponed twice due to logistical and technical issues. The aircraft carrier has been named Fujian with the hull number 18. It has been under construction at the world’s largest […]

In Beijing’s BRICS summit, Putin is back on the world stage

In Beijing’s BRICS summit, Putin is back on the world stage

When Russian President Vladimir Putin dials into the virtual BRICS summit hosted by Beijing on Thursday, it will be his first time attending a forum with the heads of major economies since launching an invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. For Putin, this could offer a welcome picture: his face beamed onscreen alongside other leaders […]

U.S. not seeking to create “Asian NATO,” defense secretary says

U.S. not seeking to create “Asian NATO,” defense secretary says

The U.S. Defense Secretary emphasized partnership as the main priority for the American security strategy in the Indo-Pacific during a keynote speech on Saturday. However, Lloyd Austin stressed that the U.S. does not seek to create “an Asian NATO.” Austin spoke for half an hour at the First Plenary Session of the Shangri-La Dialogue 2022 […]

Why Chinese warplanes are ‘playing chicken’ with US allies

Why Chinese warplanes are ‘playing chicken’ with US allies

Chinese warplanes are targeting US allies in a high-stakes “game of chicken” over the Asia-Pacific that risks spiraling out of control — raising the risk of an incident that could spark war. That is the view of analysts who warn increasingly aggressive maneuvers by Chinese fighter jets — accused of endangering both Canadian and Australian […]

Has China lost Europe?

Has China lost Europe?

In April and May, as Russia’s war in Ukraine entered its third month, China sent a special envoy to meet with officials in eight central and eastern European countries. The timing was not coincidental: in the two months since Russia had launched its invasion, China’s standing in Europe had sunk to new lows. European governments […]

Xi’s re-election: Opportunity for the world, curse for China

Xi’s re-election: Opportunity for the world, curse for China

China is gearing up for the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party to be held later this year. According to the consensus view, President Xi Jinping’s historic bid for a third term as the party’s General Secretary is assured. The Chinese President and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi Jinping, doesn’t have much […]

China: A political view

China: A political view

I read Dr Mohamad Zreik[2] interesting and comprehensive article on the growth of China’s economy. It has come a long way since the days of Mao Tse Tung and the days of his communist experiment, the Long March, when millions died. The years that followed Mao set the path from which the economy took off […]

Math books outrage China with ‘ugly, sexually suggestive, pro-American’ images

Math books outrage China with ‘ugly, sexually suggestive, pro-American’ images

China has ordered a nationwide review of school textbooks after illustrations deemed ugly, sexually suggestive and secretly pro-American caused public uproar. The news has alarmed some experts and parents who fear the campaign is turning into a political witch hunt and represents an unnecessary tightening of the country’s already stringent censorship of cultural publications. The […]

Why Biden didn’t mean what he said about Taiwan

Why Biden didn’t mean what he said about Taiwan

The White House has been left scrambling a little after President Joe Biden suggested on May 23, 2022, that the US would intervene militarily should China attempt an invasion of Taiwan. The comment, which Biden made during a trip to Japan, was taken by some observers as a deviation from the official US line on […]

United States outmanoeuvres Russia once again? 

United States outmanoeuvres Russia once again? 

In a recent briefing, the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Avril Haines warned, “I would characterize it as the Russians aren’t winning, and the Ukrainians aren’t winning, and we’re at a bit of a stalemate here.” So, where is the Russia-Ukraine war heading? What is Russian President Putin planning next? Is Europe ready for […]

%d bloggers like this: