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Former Australian PM Paul Keating criticises Liz Truss over ‘demented’ China comments

24 Jan 2022 By theguardian

Former Australian PM Paul Keating criticises Liz Truss over ‘demented’ China comments

The former Australian prime minister Paul Keating has accused Liz Truss of making "demented" comments about Chinese military aggression and urged the British foreign secretary to hurry "back to her collapsing, disreputable government".

Keating, in a blistering op-ed, also said Britain "suffers delusions of grandeur and relevance deprivation" and its tilt to the Indo-Pacific lacks credibility.

The former Labor leader, who served as prime minister from 1991 to 1996, has long pushed for "engagement" with China but now finds himself increasingly at odds with the bipartisan consensus in Canberra to take a stronger line against Beijing.

Keating took aim at Truss, who visited Australia for meetings with counterparts last week, after a report said she had warned that China could use a Russian invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity to launch aggression of its own in the Indo-Pacific.

"I don't think we can rule that out," Truss was reported as saying during an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

"Russia is working more closely with China than it ever has. Aggressors are working in concert and I think it's incumbent on countries like ours to work together."

Keating, who has previously said Australia should not come to Taiwan's aid in the event Beijing launches an attempt to invade the self-governed island, criticised Truss's comments.

"Remarks by the British foreign secretary Liz Truss that China could engage in military aggression in the Pacific, encouraged by Russia's contingent moves against Ukraine, are nothing short of demented," Keating said in an op-ed posted on the Pearls and Irritations public policy blog on Saturday.

"Not simply irrational, demented."

Keating also said the reality was that Britain "does not add up to a row of beans when it comes to east Asia".

"Britain took its main battle fleet out of east Asia in 1904 and finally packed it in with its 'East of Suez' policy in the 1970s. And it has never been back," Keating said in comments that gained prominence when reported by The Australian newspaper on Monday.

"Britain suffers delusions of grandeur and relevance deprivation."

Keating said the British and Australian governments were "kidding the rest of us that their 'cooperation' added up to some viable policy".

"Truss would do us all a favour by hightailing it back to her collapsing, disreputable government, leaving Australia to find its own way in Asia."

During her visit, Truss addressed the Lowy Institute in Sydney and warned Russia that any invasion of Ukraine would only lead to "a terrible quagmire and loss of life" on the scale of the Soviet-Afghan war.

Truss said after a meeting with the Australian foreign and defence ministers that Australia was "an absolutely crucial ally and friend" at a time of "increased economic coercion from China".

In Sydney she backed Boris Johnson, saying he was doing "a fantastic job" as prime minister, that he has her "100% support", and should remain in No 10 "as long as possible".

It is not the first time Keating has taken aim at the UK over its "tilt" to the Indo-Pacific. In a speech in November, Keating said Britain was "like an old theme park sliding into the Atlantic compared to modern China".

Keating - a longtime advocate of Australia becoming a republic - was once dubbed the "Lizard of Oz" by British tabloids after he put his hand on the Queen's back in 1992.

He has strongly opposed the Aukus pact, sealed in September, in which the UK and the US have vowed to help Australia to acquire at least eight nuclear-propelled submarines.

However the party Keating formerly led has largely sought to avoid major points of difference with the Morrison government on foreign policy in the lead up to a federal election, due to be held by May this year.

The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, has said China has become "far more forward-leaning" and Australia is "right to speak up for our own values", saying Australian businesses have been "suffering" as a result of a range of trade actions launched by Beijing as the relationship deteriorated.

The Australian defence minister, Peter Dutton, in November branded the former prime minister as "Grand Appeaser Comrade Keating".

Dutton later said it would be "inconceivable" that Australia would not join the US if the top security ally defended Taiwan in a war with China - prompting accusations the minister was politicising national security in the lead-up to the election.

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