AFTER recently patching up a diplomatic row with Indonesia, Australia’s foreign policy is under fire again from an important partner – China.
Just a day into Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s diplomatic visit to Southeast Asia, she ruffled some feathers while giving the Fullerton Lecture, hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.
In the speech entitled Change and Uncertainty in the Indo-Pacific, Bishop reportedly urged the US under President Donald Trump to play an “even greater role” in the region.
She discussed China’s territorial disputes in the South China Sea and said the country would struggle to resolve international conflicts or reach their economic potential without democratic institutions.
As a result, a government think-tank closely aligned with the Chinese Foreign Ministry lashed out at Bishop’s “arrogant finger-pointing”.
— Julie Bishop (@JulieBishopMP) March 14, 2017
Wang Zhenyu from the China Institute of International Studies told the Australian Financial Review Bishop’s perceived criticism of China was “not the East Asian way, which Australia is yet to learn in its course to sail into the Asian Century.”
The Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will visit Australia later this month.
The controversy also comes days before the Bishop’s planned visit to the Philippines, during which she plans to talk human rights and terrorism with the country’s intrepid President Rodrigo Duterte at his hometown in Davao.
According to the minister’s official statement, while in the Philippines she intends to “discuss our mutual interests in counter-terrorism, maritime and regional security, and peace and development.”
Responding to questions about Duterte’s bloody war on drugs which has claimed some 8,000 victims, Bishop told Fairfax Media she will “emphasise the importance of upholding human rights and the rule of law in democratic societies.”
Last October, Bishop called on Duterte to maintain ties with the US and for an end to extrajudicial killings by allowing drug criminals to face trial.
It remains to be seen how receptive Duterte will be to Bishop’s assertions this time around.
— Brad Adams (@BradMAdams) March 14, 2017
Last year, the Filipino leader cursed at former US president Barack Obama when it was revealed the latter had wanted to raise human rights issues with him.
Whilst in Manila, Bishop will also promote Australia’s Investing in Women Initiative to push for women’s participation in the private sector.
Apart from his penchant for using foul language on world leaders, Duterte has also been accused numerous times of misogyny for uttering offensive remarks about women.
Last year, he famously refused to apologise for a joke about the gang rape of an Australian missionary in Davao City in April, saying the rapists “beat me to her.”
At that time, Australian ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely said in a tweet “rape and murder should never be joked about or trivialised”.
More recently, Duterte commented on the length of Vice-President Leni Robredo’s skirt and last week joked about being “distracted” by the legs of a senior public servant.
During International Women’s Day on March 8, however, Duterte hailed women as “heroes” and vowed to uphold gender equality in the Philippines.
During her trip to the region, Bishop will also visit Malaysia where she will meet Prime Minister Najib Razak and other senior Cabinet ministers. Bishop will also address an International Women’s Day event in Kuala Lumpur.