//
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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 14,929 other followers

An archive of all my old posts

Follow me on Twitter

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

Could China’s economy collapse?

Could China’s economy collapse?

For almost half a century, Chinese officials have overseen one of the greatest economic transformations in human history. The country has gone from collectivized farms and famine to world-leading tech companies and gleaming megacities connected by superfast trains. More than 800 million Chinese have been pulled out of poverty as the Communist Party and its leader […]

China’s economic crisis is much bigger than expected – its property market, the largest in the world, is collapsing

China’s economic crisis is much bigger than expected – its property market, the largest in the world, is collapsing

The situation in China is much worse than originally thought.  The largest property market in the world is set to collapse and the ramifications will impact the entire world.  We’ve been discussing China’s economic issues for years.  Recently this was even discussed with Steve Bannon on The War Room. We now have information that the […]

UN must condemn forced organ harvesting in China

UN must condemn forced organ harvesting in China

Doctors, lawyers, and politicians from three continents called on the international community to ensure an end to China’s practice of forced organ harvesting during the first half of the World Summit on Combating and Preventing Forced Organ Harvesting. Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH) further calls upon the participants of the United Nations General Assembly […]

China says its J-31 is superior to F-35, and will be new carrier-borne fighter jet

China says its J-31 is superior to F-35, and will be new carrier-borne fighter jet

Dwnews.com describes the J-31 in its report “曝歼31配新型导弹高清照 被指将终结美军空中优势[图]” as China’s new carrier-borne fighter jet for China’s Type 003 aircraft carrier. The speculation is based on the J-31’s Chief Designer Sun Cong’s recent comment on social media that China will make public its new carrier-borne fighter jet by year end. The report describes the J-31 as […]

The reason for the discussion on the Tobin tax in China

The reason for the discussion on the Tobin tax in China

Tax every major financial transaction for social equity by a fraction and allocate the funds to redistribution initiatives. The Tobin tax is the shattered dream of the anti-globalist left, even if its history is slightly more complex. Formulated in 1972 by James Tobin, the 1981 Nobel laureate in economics, it aimed to stabilize the financial […]

Is another Cultural Revolution underway in China?

Is another Cultural Revolution underway in China?

Chinese President Xi Jinping is cracking down on several sectors of Chinese society, including technology and entertainment. This has some Beijing watchers worried a new version of Chairman Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution is underway. Here’s everything you need to know. What was the Cultural Revolution? It was a brutal 10-year period between 1966-76 (with most […]

Cadence Column: Asia, October 11, 2021

Cadence Column: Asia, October 11, 2021

Biden is creating a special center within CIA for China. Xi Jinping is irate. Biden knows China almost as well as Trump. He met with Chinese officials as Vice President. While Trump played a “good cop” routine on China, Biden is in a better position to be less diplomatic. After all, hating on China does […]

The curious case of Pakistan, China, TTP and BRI

The curious case of Pakistan, China, TTP and BRI

On 1st October Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan broke all hell loose when on the Turkish government-run TV channel, TRT World, he disclosed that the Pakistani government is in secret talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), facilitated by the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistanis were upset for many reasons. They were upset that they were kept in […]

China’s electronic warfare aircraft J-16D spotted near Taiwan; experts say India border could be next

China’s electronic warfare aircraft J-16D spotted near Taiwan; experts say India border could be next

China is rapidly acquiring new military technologies and weapons as it tries to dominate the Indo-Pacific region, especially the South China Sea which it considers as its backyard. The J-16D electronic warfare aircraft (EWA) is one such platform that stood out at the recently concluded Zhuhai airshow and according to reports, PLA has deployed the […]

Instead of confronting China’s rise, we must manage its decline

Instead of confronting China’s rise, we must manage its decline

Nations, like people, have reputations, and in both cases there can be gaps between the rep and the reality. China is known as the sage of nations, strategically patient, thinking in terms of centuries while the West flits about like a toddler in a toy store. Current events are forcing a reappraisal, however, as China […]

%d bloggers like this: