Not Kevin Rudd evidently.
Despite the PM’s so called “special relationship” with China, and his self-professed title as a “diplomat” it seems as though the PM carries as influence as a wet rag in Chinese diplomatic circles.
The Federal Government is still no closer to extracting more information from China about the arrest of Australian mining executive Stern Hu. Chinese born Mr Hu and his three Rio Tinto colleagues were arrested last Sunday for allegedly spying and stealing state secrets.
China’s acting ambassador to Australia was called into the Foreign Affairs Department again yesterday but the Foreign Affairs Minister admits no more detail has been forthcoming.
This report from ABC’s AM Chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis:
LYNDAL CURTIS: Three times the Government has sought to extract more information from China’s acting ambassador to Australia and it’s still no closer to answers to its questions.
STEPHEN SMITH: No, and that is why we pressed them both in Canberra and in Beijing but I have made the point in recent days despite some people thinking that somehow this difficult issue can be magically solved by one phone call, this is a difficult and complex case. It requires constant attention which is what we are giving it.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Australian officials were able to see Mr Hu last week but under the consular agreement struck with China they won’t be able to see him again for another month.
The Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith has told Radio National the Government’s priority is getting detailed information on the charges that may be facing Mr Hu.
STEPHEN SMITH: To enable us to, in our view, try and protect Mr Hu’s interests, we need to have more detail about that and more precise detail about it and that is what we are pressing Chinese officials for.
LYNDAL CURTIS: And he’s not happy that Australian ministers have been reduced to scouring Chinese newspapers and websites for information.
STEPHEN SMITH: I have made it crystal clear, as have our officials, that I would have much preferred that this information be given to us through the normal diplomatic channels and you can be reliably assured that that is a point that has been made in the last 24 hours to Chinese officials both here and in Beijing.
LYNDAL CURTIS: While Mr Smith and the Trade Minister Simon Crean are trying to separate the detention of Mr Hu from the broader economic and trade relationship between the countries, one former ambassador to China, Ross Garnaut believes the episode may do wider damage.
ROSS GARNAUT: It is going to be an episode that does do damage to China and its international partners. It’s in all of our interests that that be handled with great sensitivity within and without China.
I have no doubt that within China there will be concerns about the international business response.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith has rejected the Opposition’s continuing calls that either he or the Prime Minster pick up the phone to speak to their counterparts in China. He says the Government is being methodical and proportionate and isn’t giving up on Mr Hu but the Coalition’s defence spokesman David Johnston has told ABC TV the Government’s performance isn’t nearly good enough.
DAVID JOHNSTON: The Prime Minister proclaims that he has a special relationship. He is a diplomat. What have we seen from this government with respect to resolving this man’s plight? I just think it is absolutely outrageous and I just cannot believe we are sitting back allegedly, quietly manoeuvring behind the scenes.