Anthony Albanese open to Xi Jinping meeting as ADF China claims investigated

Home Politics Anthony Albanese open to Xi Jinping meeting as ADF China claims investigated
Anthony Albanese open to Xi Jinping meeting as ADF China claims investigated

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it would be a “positive thing” if he could meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his nine-day international jaunt to three major diplomatic meetings next week.

Any such meeting would come days after Defence Minister Richard Marles announced a “detailed examination” of the defence force following “concerning” reports former personnel may have been recruited by China and spilt state secrets.

Mr Albanese will travel to the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh before going to the G20 in Bali and then to Bangkok for APEC.

“We are still finalising the program … I have made it very clear that dialogue is a good thing,” Mr Albanese said.

“If a meeting is arranged with Xi Jinping, that would be a positive thing. We look forward to (it), we are organising a range of meetings, but they haven’t been finalised and locked in at this point in time.

“We will make an announcement if and when meetings with various leaders are locked in.”

If the meeting were to go ahead, it would be the first time President Xi has met with an Australian prime minister since Malcolm Turnbull in 2017.

The opposition’s countering foreign interference spokesman James Paterson said the opposition would welcome a meeting between Mr Albanese and Mr Xi.

“We think it was unfortunate that in recent years the Chinese government have refused to have any bilateral meetings with their Australian counterparts,” he said.

Asked whether he wanted Mr Albanese to raise the concerns brought about by the defence review, Mr Paterson said he would “leave it with the Prime Minister”.

“Of course, it is appropriate in bilateral meetings to raise any issues of concern in the relationship,” he said.

‘Detailed examination’

Last month, reports emerged that China had been hiring retired air force pilots from Australia and other Western countries to train its own military.

Following an initial probe, Mr Marles said there had been enough evidence to warrant the need for a detailed examination into the adequacy of defence policies and procedures.

ASIO and police will also be engaged should the policy investigation find instances of wrongdoing by individuals.

In an extraordinary brief statement on Wednesday morning, Mr Marles said those who were in possession of the nation’s top secrets had an “enduring obligation” to maintain those secrets “for as long as they are secrets”.

“That persists well after their engagement with the commonwealth,” he said.

“And to breach that obligation is a very serious crime. That is clear and unambiguous.”

Mr Marles did not provide any additional details about the number of former defence force personnel who had been engaged by China, other than to say defence was supporting a joint taskforce currently investigating “a number of cases”.

“What we are focused on right now is making sure that we do examine the policies and procedures that are currently in place in respect of our former defence personnel to make sure they are adequate,” he said.

In a written statement, Mr Marles said there were already a range of layered policies in place to protect defence people, information and assets from foreign collection but any weaknesses identified in the system would be strengthened.

The opposition said it supported the investigation, with defence spokesman Andrew Hastie – a former SAS captain – saying reports former personnel were being approached were “deeply concerning”.

“Such conduct, if these allegations are verified, is highly improper and contrary to the Australian national interest,” Mr Hastie said.

“We trust the government is making this an urgent priority.”

Last month, the UK government announced it would take “decisive steps” to stop Beijing from recruiting former pilots, following reports they were being offered upwards of £240,000 ($A428, 830) to train China’s air force.

A probe was launched that culminated in Mr Marles’ announcement on Wednesday.

At the time of initial reports, Mr Marles said he would be “deeply shocked and disturbed” if it were to emerge that personnel were “being lured by a pay cheque” by a foreign state above serving their country.

Last month, former US fighter pilot Daniel Duggan was arrested in rural NSW by the Australian Federal Police at the request of the US.

He was arrested following a stint in China. Details of the warrant and the charges he faces are sealed, according to his lawyer.

The case was adjourned until the end of November.

The defence department was peppered with questions by senators in estimates on Wednesday morning.

Deputy secretary security and estate Celia Perkins said she would present findings from her internal review to Mr Marles by December, and at this stage the department did not know precisely how many personnel had been approached.

If she uncovered any instances of wrongdoings in her internal inquiry, she said she would pass details along to Mr Marles and law enforcement agencies.

“We’re doing a deep investigation of our own policies and procedures, our own knowledge and understanding of our members and our former serving members and what we might need to understand about this problem,” she said.

“Foreign actors will target our people for the unique skills that they have, and it’s a really important part of our work to understand how we help, manage and support (our people).”

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