Keating on China

Michelle Grattan

Former prime minister Paul Keating has launched a scathing attack on the Australian media for its coverage of China, denouncing “the nominally pious belchings of ‘do-gooder’ journalists” who live on leaks from security agencies. Keating told the Australian newspaper’s strategic forum on Monday: 'The Australian media has been recreant in its duty to the public in failing to present a balanced picture of the rise, legitimacy and importance of China'. Instead it preferred 'to traffic in side plays dressed up with cosmetics of sedition and risk.'

His attack comes amid debate about China’s refusal of visas to two members of federal parliament, Andrew Hastie and senator James Paterson, who have been strong critics of the Beijing’s regime. Current relations between the Chinese and Australian governments have been strained for some time, with a range of tension points, including the issue of Chinese interference in Australian politics and universities and the government’s response.

In his speech Keating once again had in his sights what he sees as the sway of security agencies in foreign policy especially on China, a point he made forcefully before the election. 'What passes for the foreign policy of Australia lacks any sense of strategic realism,' he said. “'The whispered word "communism" of old, is now being replaced with the word "China".  The reason we have ministries and cabinets is that a greater and collective wisdom can be brought to bear on complex topics – and particularly on movements of tectonic importance. This process is not working in Australia,' he said.

'The subtleties of foreign policy and the elasticity of diplomacy are being supplanted by the phobias of a group of national security agencies which are now effectively running the foreign policy of the country. And the media has been up to its ears in it.' 

He targeted particularly the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age for their China coverage. 'Drops to journalists by the [security] agencies about another ‘seditious’ publication in a particular university or the hijinks of another Chinese entrepreneur is passed off as the evil bearing of the Chinese State.' He said he did not know how Scott Morrison and the government permitted this state of affairs.

Keating said big states were 'rude and nasty,' and referenced instances of American be