Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles shrugs off critics over China meetings

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Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles has responded to questions about his meetings with Chinese diplomats, calling it nothing but a “desperate and silly” attempt by the Coalition government to distract from their own national security record.

In the past five years, Mr Marles has met with Chinese Embassy officials 10 times, an investigation by The Australian revealed on Friday.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has had just two meetings with the previous Chinese ambassador and one with his replacement since she took over the portfolio in August 2018.

“All of this has got pretty desperate and a bit silly,” Mr Marles told reporters at a press conference on Friday morning.

“It would be good if the government put as much focus into its relationship in the Pacific as it does into my diary.”

Camera IconRichard Marles has met with Chinese diplomats 10 times in the last five years. Supplied Credit: Supplied

“Ultimately, what we‘re seeing here is a government which is desperately trying to distract from the fact that it has dropped the ball in the Pacific.”

Mr Marles denied allegations that he had given the impression diplomatic relations would improve under a Labor government during conversations with Chinese officials.

He said several of the meetings with Chinese Embassy officials were in relation to Labour’s opposition to an extradition treaty with China proposed by the Coalition government.

Scott Morrison weighed in on the issue on Friday, criticising Mr Marles for a “strangely high number of meetings” with Chinese diplomats.

“We see a very strangely high number of meetings between an opposition member of parliament and Chinese government officials,” the Prime Minister said.

“I mean, something doesn‘t sound right to me.”

Mr Marles said the government had been aware of several of the meetings.

MP RICHARD MARLES DOORSTOP
Camera IconMr Marles denied allegations that he had indicated relations would improve with China under a Labour government. NCA NewsWire / Ian Currie Credit: News Corp Australia

“As relationships have become more difficult, I thought it was appropriate to be letting the government know, but there’s no secret to what I’ve been doing,” he said.

“I’ve been completely transparent about all my activities and indeed the government has known about them and at times has been supporting them.”

Mr Marles honed in on the Coalition’s failed submarine program and the Port of Darwin’s sale to China.

When asked if the meetings undermined Labor’s stance that both sides of politics would stand up to China in the same way, Mr Marles reaffirmed his party’s position that China posed a challenge to Australia.

“We‘ve been really clear about the challenges that China presents to Australia and the need for us to be ready to meet those challenges,” he said.

In relation to the security pact between China and the Solomons Island, Mr Marles said it was a “game changer and not in a good way”.

“It does change Australia‘s strategic circumstances and it’s a matter of enormous concern,” he said.

Mr Marles said he had maintained relationships with other diplomats in Canberra, including the US, whose ambassador he said he had met close to 30 times.

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Source: World