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Transcript of interview with Tom Connell: Sky News: 27 September 2019: Scott Morrison's trip to the US; China's status as a developing nation

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SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s trip to the US; China’s status as a developing nation

TOM CONNELL: Joining me now is Shadow Trade Minister Madeleine King from our Perth studio. Thanks very much for your time today Madeleine King. So Scott Morrison has said in the US global institutions should reset their trade settings for China, because it's no longer a developing nation. Do you agree or disagree?

MADELEINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE: I don't agree with what the Prime Minister has said, nor in the manner in which he did it. By any account, let's take the World Bank’s measures of what a developing nation might be, China is a developing nation and remains so. There's no doubt it's made extraordinary economic strides in recent decades. But it nonetheless does remain a developing nation. And for our Prime Minister to take a different position, a different position from the rest of the WTO membership who accepts that classification of China, and to do that from the US directly after a presidential election campaign rally, is not perhaps the best means of diplomacy on this issue.

CONNELL: So is there no more nuance to it? Because yes, China does fall within the parameter and one of the key ones is income per person in the country. But at the same time, clearly it's a global economic power, it's a behemoth, isn't it a bit more nuanced than simply saying it's developing and it can continue to be classified as so?

KING: I think it is nuanced. And there's a lot of room for speaking with China about reassessing how they want to classify themselves under the WTO rules.

But my point is, you can't really achieve this by yelling it, making a demand or an instruction of a nation-state from the shores of another that has itself labelled China a competitor. My view is that if you want to seek to have China to reassess their status in the WTO is to engage in a bit more mature diplomacy and seek consent and talk, not yell. I think that's what needs to happen here. And that's a long-term investment of time, no doubt about it. But we have very good diplomats that represent this nation. And also obviously, our Foreign Minister and our Trade Minister and I know Minister Birmingham is doing his best to try and maintain a solid relationship with China in the face of some of the pronouncement of the Prime Minister out of the US.

CONNELL: So you're talking about where the speech happened and the type of language? But what about the crux of the complaint as well? Would you agree that China should stop forcing companies to hand over intellectual property, for example, as basically an entry to the Chinese market?

KING: Indeed, there is no doubt there are great issues with some of China's behaviour and the intellectual property infringements are absolutely a prime example of that. And I agree, I understand why people are upset with that. And it is wrong for China to do that. But we're not going to get a change of behaviour by making demands, pretty much unilaterally, side by side the US rather than take the position of being a good honest broker that goes to speak with Chinese officials about how we might do this in a sensible manner and acknowledge that this is causing unrest among its trading partners,

CONNELL: And other elements, propping up industries in terms of their cost of production to make it cheaper, manipulated currency, dump things such as steel, are all issues you’d agree with in terms of China's trade practices.

KING: I think if Australia has any issue with any country, and I know we're talking about China right now, and an issue we don't agree with their actions, it is better for us to talk about it sensibly with them in appropriate circles rather than shout it via the media or by an appearance somewhere else. So the things that you mentioned, there are many issues with them. And I think it's more about having a frank and honest discussion with China and its officials, rather than making unilateral statements.

CONNELL: But the other aspect of this is there have been complaints about this behaviour from China for many years, for many of those years while they have been a very different country to how they were 20, 30 years ago. Presumably officials have been asking, and China's been saying thanks, but no thanks. Is there anything wrong with going public at all? Can we never criticise China publicly?

KING: No, of course not. The context and timing is really important in international relations. That the Prime Minister did make this statement from the US, that is a big deal. And it changes a position that Australia has hitherto agreed to, as have other WTO members. So I don't think we can diminish the significance of where and when ...

CONNELL: Sorry to jump in Madeleine King, but Scott Morrison did first outline this broad position in June, in a speech in Australia.

KING: He outlined a proposition in June, perhaps he did. But then to go and shout that same position from the US after a campaign rally really puts us in a difficult position where our independence and ability to be a broker between these two great nations is put at risk. And what he said in that June speech in Australia is not unreasonable. But that's where it should be said. I think that's appropriate. But as I said before, these actions in international relations are really important. Some people might think, what does it matter where he says it, but in these circles context is vitally important and as a mature middle-power nation that we think of ourselves as, it's important that we respect those expectations of us in terms of contexts and times and dates and what we say.

CONNELL: Broadly speaking on this, though, Labor agrees with all the issues called out, that it is a real issue and it's a question of just how to approach it, rather than whether it should be brought up.

KING: Well, not all the issues. We don't agree on the developing nation versus developed nation. I don't agree ....

CONNELL: Could there be a third category that Scott Morrison did mention there though, a recently developed nation or something similar. There was a prominent academic this week who was talking to Sky News who said China could be a super developing nation, so some sort of other category. Could there be a third one?

KING: I wouldn't commit to that, because it is a matter of working with the WTO to do that. And I know people get frustrated at the times things take but it does take time, because it's a really important matter for China and for us, as a country that relies on China as an export partner. So perhaps there could be another category. But the main thing is, whatever happens you've got to include China in the discussion in a mature and sensible fashion.

CONNELL: Madeleine King, appreciate your thoughts today, fleshing out what this debates’s been about all week, chat soon. Thank you.

KING: Thank you very much Tom.