(Bloomberg) -- Australia’s former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said he expected there would be “a reset” in relations between Canberra and Beijing under new leader Anthony Albanese, calling his own party’s former rhetoric on the Chinese government “frenzied” and “unhelpful.”
Relations between Australia and China have been in a diplomatic deep freeze for years under the former Liberal National Coalition government led by Turnbull and his successor Scott Morrison. After Albanese’s election win on May 21, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reached out to congratulate Australia’s new prime minister, saying close relations between the two countries were “conducive to peace, stability, development and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Speaking to Bloomberg on Wednesday, Turnbull said China had “overreached in its bullying of Australia,” including the imposition of tariffs and customs delays on Australian exports. Now the election of Albanese presented “the opportunity for an elegant dismount,” he said.
“The big difference with the Labor government will be that they will not crank up the political rhetoric in the rather frenzied way that Morrison and particularly (former Defence Minister) Peter Dutton did,” Turnbull said. “And they did that for domestic political purposes and that was really unhelpful for Australia. It was absolutely the wrong thing to do.”
However Turnbull added he didn’t expect major differences in Albanese’s overall China policy and so far, Albanese has been adamant any improvement in the relationship with Beijing will depend on the Chinese government’s willingness to compromise.
Turnbull, who led Australia from 2015 to 2018, lost power when he was replaced by Morrison as prime minister following a chaotic challenge for the leadership of the party by Dutton. Under Turnbull, the Australian government put in place new foreign interference legislation which the Chinese government saw as directed at them, causing relations to deteriorate.
Ties between Beijing and Canberra only worsened under Morrison, particularly after the former Australian leader called for an independent investigation into the origins of Covid-19 in April 2020.
Albanese has promised to take tougher action to cut carbon emissions than his predecessor, who only signed a net zero emissions by 2050 pledge late last year. Turnbull said while Albanese was likely to want to stick to his election promises of 43% emissions cuts by 2030, Australia’s new leader could look to be more ambitious in his climate policies.
“This election has been a real political revolution,” Turnbull said.
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