Wandering China

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China’s fury at defence paper [The Age]


Appearing in Australia’s ‘The Age’ today – revelations that the Chinese were not happy being assessed as a force that is upsetting regional security.

‘Major-General Jia and other Chinese officials were particularly annoyed by the white paper’s reference to China’s military build-up being beyond the scope required for any conflict over Taiwan, the cable noted.’

– – –

China’s fury at defence paper
Philip Dorling and Richard Baker
Source – The Age, published December 10, 2010

THE Australian government publicly played down reports of a hostile Chinese reaction to last year’s defence white paper, while secretly briefing the United States that Beijing had threatened Australia would ”suffer the consequences” if references to China were not watered down.

The revelations of China’s true reaction to the May 2009 white paper, which proposed a substantial boost in Australia’s air and naval power in response to China’s increasing military presence in the region, are revealed in a series of secret US government cables written in May last year.

The paper declared China would be Asia’s strongest military power ”by a considerable margin” and warned the pace and scope of its growth had the potential to give its neighbours cause for concern if not properly explained.

In the cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and released to The Age, US officials contrast the public comments of Australian Defence Force chief Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston – saying China had no problems with the Australian defence white paper – with a private briefing given to them on China’s real reaction by the Defence Department’s then deputy secretary and white paper co-ordinator, Mike Pezzullo.

”Although Australian Defence Force chief Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston told the media that the Chinese did not express concern over the paper when briefed ahead of the paper’s release, press reports and other reporting indicate Beijing reacted very negatively to the implication it could pose a threat,” a cable dated May 13, 2009, stated.

On May 7 last year, Air Chief Marshal Houston was reported as saying that Chinese officials had raised ”no particular concerns” about the white paper and that they appreciated being briefed by an Australian defence official before its release.

On May 4, then defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon said media reports suggesting Chinese officials reacted negatively to Mr Pezzullo’s briefing were wrong. ”I’ve spoken with Mike Pezzullo, who participated in the meeting, and that’s not the feedback I get from those meetings,” he said.

Mr Pezzullo, gave a different account of China’s impressions on the white paper during a discussion with American diplomats after the paper’s release on May 2 last year, according to a May 13 2009 cable, classified as secret and not to be disclosed outside the US government.

The cable quoted Mr Pezzullo telling American diplomats about how he was ”dressed down” by the deputy director of foreign affairs in China’s defence ministry, Major-General Jia Xiaoning.

According to the cable, Major-General Jia ”demanded Australia make changes to the paper or suffer the consequences”. Mr Pezzullo’s initial meetings with other Chinese foreign affairs and People’s Liberation Army officials were also ”frosty”, the cable noted.

Another secret cable written on May 19 reported Mr Pezzullo describing Major-General Jia as a ”bruiser” who had a ”look of cold fury” wash across his face at China’s repeated mentions in the white paper.

Major-General Jia and other Chinese officials were particularly annoyed by the white paper’s reference to China’s military build-up being beyond the scope required for any conflict over Taiwan, the cable noted.

”During each of the briefings, the Chinese asked Pezzullo to revise the description of the regional security environment,” the cable noted. ”Pezzullo said he responded firmly that the white paper would not be changed, and that he had not come to negotiate it.”

The lobbying over language continued even as Mr Pezzullo walked to board his outbound flight, with a Chinese military colonel appealing to the Australian’s ”intellect and sophistication”, according to the cable.

After Mr Pezzullo’s briefing, the Chinese denied an Australian request to host some People’s Liberation Army officers on board Australian vessels near Hong Kong, the cable noted.

Another cable to Washington reveals then foreign affairs minister Stephen Smith was lobbied by officials in Beijing in April last year to ensure China was not singled out as the focus of Australia’s ”strategic defence reorientation.

Mr Pezzullo said the Chinese had tempered their initial reaction at a second round of briefings and appeared to appreciate Australia’s efforts to brief them in advance of the white paper’s public release.

The cable also referred to Japan’s reaction to its briefing on the white paper, with the country’s vice minister of defence reportedly ”shocked” by Australia’s intentions to double the size of its submarine force to 12 submarines, as well as the fiscal implications of the commitment.

”The Defence Vice Minister did a ‘double take’ and noted that Japan had only 16 submarines,” the cable stated.

Indonesia was reported as reacting to the white paper, including the objective to attain long-range, land-attack missiles, by saying they believed it consistent with Australia’s policy over the past 30 to 60 years.

”Pezzullo, however, noted that their body language suggested they questioned Australia’s intentions behind its far-reaching expansion,” the cable concluded.

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Filed under: Australia, International Relations, Media, military, Politics, The Age

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