Briefing Monthly #58 | January 2023
Election watch | Students return | Aid shake-up looms | ASEAN business challenges | China export hopes
Animation by Rocco Fazzari.
Only 54 per cent of people in the Asia and the Pacific live in a democracy and almost 85 per cent of them live in one that is weak or backsliding. Indeed, the latest research by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) finds that in the last five years there was a significant decrease in a key attribute of democracy in 60 per cent of the 35 measured countries, led by events in Afghanistan and Myanmar.
This will not be a big year for resetting that doleful downturn. But it will still be an example of how “electoral democracy” continues apace across most of the region even if the outcomes don’t measure up to the IDEA standards for “liberal democracy”.
Briefing MONTHLY kicks off the year with a look at the elections scheduled from Pakistan to Micronesia. While this won’t be the colourful Asian festival of democracy like we saw in 2019 in Indonesia and India, the warm-up for the next votes in those countries in 2024 will increasingly overshadow other matters there.
This year the key poll to watch will be in Thailand where the standing of the military dominated government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha is fading, raising the prospect of some form of recovery by the forces aligned with the Shinawatra family. Australia stepped up economic and security ties with the Prayut government last year despite its military coup origins underlining Thailand’s role as a nimble footed diplomatic interlocutor in the region.
Meanwhile, the world’s longest serving female government leader Shiekh Rasina Wazed seems set to seek a fifth term in office in Bangladesh amid economic success but rising concern about creeping authoritarianism. And a shout out to Timor Leste – the region’s emerging unanticipated flagbearer for IDEA-style democracy.
And in ASIAN NATION and DEALS AND DOLLARS we look at the year ahead for Australia’s Asian engagement and business in the region.
Briefing MONTHLY editor
THAILAND: Back to the future
Sixteen years after Thaksin Shinawatra was forced from power by a military coup and eight years after his sister Yingluck lost the prime ministership due to a legal challenge, the family appears set for yet another recovery.
With an election due by May, the military influenced multi-party government has been struck by a series of upheavals as member parties manoeuvre for advantage amid the decline of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha’s military-based Palang Pracharath Party. Prayut, 68, has shifted to the relatively new United Thai Nation Party saying it offers the best chance for him to continue in office. But about 40 government and opposition politicians have also jumped ship to the Bhumjaithai Party which is the second biggest party in the government and riding a wave of popularity due to its backing of cannabis liberalisation. Its leader Anutin Charnvirakul could be a compromise next prime minister.
But Thaksin’s 36-year-old daughter Paetongtarn is the most favoured future prime minister in opinion polls with a recent survey showing 34 per cent support compared with 22 per cent for Prayut. Paetongtarn’s Pheu Thai Party (The largest opposition party and a successor to her father’s original Thai Rak Thai Party) was even more strongly favoured with 43 per cent support and she announced she was seeking the prime minister’s job this month.
In another illustration of the country’s complex electoral situation the second most favoured party was Move Forward, part of the opposition and a successor to the Future Forward Party which was the surprise success of the 2019 election but subsequently disbanded due to controversial legal action.
Under a new electoral system voters will have two votes for a local candidate and a party list which will result in 400 parliamentary seats for local members and 100 seats split amongst the parties. A fractious coalition seems certain as Thailand tries to evolve from more than a decade of its latest phase of military involvement in government. The prime minister is chosen by the 500 lower house members and the 250 member Senate. The senators are expected to be more divided this time than in 2019 when they strongly backed Prayut.
Rising scion … Paetongtarn Shinawatra
TIMOR LESTE: Old guard clings on
Timor’s stature as a nation will be recognised this year as it transitions to becoming the 11th member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). So, its neighbours will be paying greater attention as the country it goes to a parliamentary election in May after recurring constitutional and coalition wrangling since the last election in 2018.
Sixty-five members will be elected via proportional representation with a nationwide constituency to serve five-year terms. There is a three percent threshold for parties entering parliament but at the last election the two dominant parties won two thirds of the seats. Overseas citizens will be allowed to postal vote for the first time which may give a bigger voice to Australia’s Timorese community.
Timorese politics is still dominated by ageing figures from the independence struggle against Indonesian occupation underlined by last year’s presidential election win by former president and prime minister Jose Ramos Horta against incumbent president Francisco (Lu-Olo) Guterres. Guterres heads Fretilin which has 23 seats in the current assembly and is at the core of the four party coalition which has held government since 2020. It includes the Peoples Liberation Party (PLP) headed by another former president and prime minister Taur Matan Ruak.
The key powerplay in the election will be whether the current main opposition party the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) head by former independence leader, president and prime minister Xanana Gusmao can regain power. Then it will be interesting to see how Gusmao is able to share power with Horta, who ran as the CNRT presidential candidate last year but presents himself as more of an independent. CNRT has been largely excluded from power by legal and political manoeuvres involving Guterres since the last election.
Francisco Guterres (left) and Xanana Gusmao in happier times.
CAMBODIA: Hun Sen again?
The main uncertainty surrounding the Cambodian election on July 23 is likely to be whether the long ruling and increasingly authoritarian prime minister Hun Sen makes any substantial move to hand power to his son Hun Manet.
Hun Sen, who has largely held power since 1984, has hinted on staying for another term suggesting some uncertainty over his son’s durability. He secured virtual one-party rule for his Cambodian People’s Party at the 2018 election with the forced dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). But his successful management of the pandemic and chairing of ASEAN last year has allowed him to recover some stature at home and in the region. Some partner countries have urged Hun Sen to conduct a fairer vote this time around.
Cambodians will choose 125 members of the lower house by proportional representation in each of the country’s provinces. The Candlelight Party has become the main opposition party with the CNRP both dissolved and divided, and there have been suggestions it could win up to 20 seats after it won about 20 per cent of the vote at last year’s local government elections.
PAKISTAN: Khan's last stand
Comeback trail … Imran Khan Picture: techjuice.pk
Ousted prime minister Imran Khan has set an ambitiously high benchmark for success in this year’s National Assembly election by saying he needs to win a two thirds majority to be able to govern the country.
Khan, a cricketer turned populist politician, has been under persistent assault from the establishment since being removed from office in April with moves to disqualify him from running and charge him with terrorism. But he has responded with mass rallies and calls for an early election. He also survived an assassination attempt in November. Meanwhile the rightist Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led coalition government under prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, which replaced Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (PTI) government, has been under pressure over the handling of an economic crisis, massive floods, and increasing terrorist attacks.
This dissolution of the PTI-controlled assembly in the country’s largest state Punjab this month has heightened speculation off an early national vote.
The election for 342 National Assembly members must be held by October 12 after the Assembly expires in August, although there has been speculation of a later date under a caretaker electoral administration. There are 272 single member seats, 60 seats for women under a proportional system and ten seats for non-Muslims. The coalition which replaced Khan’s government has reversed a plan to use electronic voting at this election.
Khan’s PTI won an unexpectedly strong mandate at the 2018 election winning almost a third of the vote and seats which was well ahead of the Sharif family linked PML (about 25 per cent) and the leftist Bhutto family linked Pakistan Peoples Party (about 15 per cent). No Pakistani prime minister has served a full five-year term. He appears to still retain strong popular support and stands out for his preparedness to challenge the military’s long involvement in Pakistani politics.
While Khan seems to have has set an overly ambitious target for being able to govern the country with constitutional reforms, an equally large question mark hangs over whether the incumbent relatively new coalition government can retain any unity of purpose in an election climate given it involves cooperation between the traditionally rival Sharif and Bhutto families.
BANGLADESH: Under scrutiny
Seeking a fifth term … Sheikh Hasina Picture: Bangladesh Post
The world’s eighth most populous country kicks off an election year with the choice of a new president by the existing parliament in February. But the real action will later in the year with the existing parliament due to expire in January 2024.
The center leftist Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina Wazed has held power since 2008 which was the last time an election was held without debate about the government’s authoritarian electoral management practices. But with Bangladesh’s international profile rising due to a relatively strong economic performance from textile exports and its strategic geographical location, several partner countries and international agencies have been pressing the government to hold a more transparent vote.
About 120 million voters (including eight million new ones) will choose 300 members from single member seats and another 50 women are elected by proportional representation. The opposition conservative/nationalist Bangladesh National Party led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia boycotted the 2014 election. It only won seven seats compared with 302 for the Awami League in 2018 but has significantly raised its public profile ahead of this year’s vote. There have been growing public protests against the Hasina government over deteriorating economic conditions and other policies. The smaller third party Jamaat-e-Islami, also has a troubled relationship with the Awami League.
Hasina will be seeking a fifth term in office after serving one term in the 1990s and is now the world’s longest serving female leader of a government. She has touted digital transformation as her key election theme but the more fascinating aspect of the election may be whether the country’s most prominent private citizen micro-finance pioneer and Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus emerges as a government opponent.
KAZAKHSTAN: After Russia
A political and diplomatic transformation may be underway in central Asia’s largest country this year, as Kazakhstan tries to distance itself from Russia after the Ukraine invasion and conduct a series of elections.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was re-elected to a single new seven year term last November under a new constitution after taking power from longstanding strongman leader Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2019 and promising a more open political system. Riots against corruption under the old Soviet-influenced system last January increased the pressure on Tokayev to deliver change this year. The new constitution facilitates a redistribution of power across branches of government and more political parties.
A Senate election was under way in January to choose single representatives for 20 regions or cities. But the more important election for the lower house is scheduled for March 19. Elections for local government heads are also planned. Analysts are divided over whether Tokayev is manipulating the new political system to reinforce his power or is seeking a broad public mandate to be able to shift central Asia’s biggest country away from dependence on Russia.
PACIFIC ISLANDS: Micropolitics
The Pacific region had its big year for democracy last year with elections in both Fiji and Papua New Guinea and the Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has controversially delayed this year’s scheduled election until 2024
But the Federated States of Micronesia will elect new Congress members in March with ten members elected for two-year terms to represent single seats and four members elected for four-year terms from four states. The Congress will then elect the President and Vice-president from amongst the four at large senators who will then be replaced at special election later in the year.
Incumbent President David Panuelo played a role in pulling back from the threatened exit by Micronesian members from the Pacific Islands Forum. He also played a role in rejecting China’s proposed Pacific security agreement last year.
Tuvalu is expected to hold parliamentary elections in September for 16 members with four-year terms from eight constituencies and no official political parties.
The Marshall Islands will elect 33 members for four-year terms in its legislature from single and multi-member constituencies late in the year.
NEW ZEALAND: Labour pains
After Jacinda … Chris Hipkins and Carmel Sepuloni Picture: Stuff
Jacinda Ardern has baulked at seeking a third term as prime minister to match her old boss Helen Clark amid the headwinds of from a fading economy, a delayed post-COVID malaise, a popular new opposition leader and difficulties bedding down controversial reforms.
Ardern announced her resignation from February 7 last week at what was meant to be the Labour Party planning meeting for the run to a difficult election. She said she no longer had what it takes to pursue another four years in power. Education Minster Chris Hipkins was appointed prime minister at the weekend unopposed. His deputy will be the country’s first parliament member of Tongan descent Carmel Sepuloni.
After winning a remarkable 50 per cent of the vote and outright government in 2020 in a system which tends to encourage multi-party coalition government, Labour has been tracking behind the National opposition for much of the past year below 40 per cent. It may also have a difficult time assembling coalition partners this time around.
The vote could have been delayed until January next year but Ardern has delivered both the schedule and the job to her successor by announcing the October 14 date with her surprise resignation. Voters will be choosing 120 members in the 30 year old mixed member proportional representation system with 72 from single-member electorates and 48 members from national party lists.
MYANMAR: Wooing minorities
The two-year-old military junta is tying to win some credibility for its long-promised election this year by seeking support for the country’s ethnic minorities for a vote which has been rejected by the pro-democracy forces aligned with ousted former prime minister Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s National league for Democracy.
Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing notably claimed in his Independence Day speech he was working closely with China, India, Thailand, Laos and Bangladesh as most countries spurned the election which is likely by mid-year but could be earlier.
In 2020 the Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won 258 of the 330 single member elected seats (the military was given 110 seats) in the House of Representatives, providing the impetus for the coup. But this time the junta reportedly plans to use a proportional representation system which under normal circumstances might produce a fairer result due to the country’s ethnic diversity.
Myanmar has only held two free elections in its history - in 2015 and 2020. But the military appears to be trying to move down the post-coup path used in Thailand by legitimising its rule with a military-based party winning an election. The ethnic groups may see value in a proportional representation system.
While the election event will be criticised for excluding the country’s democracy movement, the junta will be trying to strengthen its arm in negotiations with neighbouring countries by claiming that it has met the post-coup promise of some form of election.
Some party or government leadership changes and local government elections this year will also be worth watching for signals about more important elections and political developments further ahead.
Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party last week elected a new chair after President Tsai Ing-wen resigned from the party post following its poor showing in the 2022 local government elections. Vice-president William Lai unopposed election suggests he will be the DPP presidential candidate in early 2024 since Tsai cannot run again. Lai has been a strong supporter of sovereignty from China adding to the likelihood that tensions will increase with China.
Singapore will elect a new president by September. The six-year position is largely ceremonial with strict regulation of who can actually run, although the president can reject some government appointments and speak out on issues.
The choice is culturally sensitive after the 2017 election was reserved for a Malay community member to provide some racial balance in the country’s leadership where the prime minister has always been ethnic Chinese. It was won by Halimah Yacob without a vote and it is unclear if she will run again in this year’s election which will be open to candidates from all ethnic backgrounds. A rare contested election could also provide Singaporeans with a democratic choice at a time when the Peoples Action Party government has struggled with facilitating a smooth succession to replace long serving Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. But it could also set up another authority figure at a sensitive time in the country’s political evolution.
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s newly elected coalition government will face a potentially uncomfortably early test of public opinion with a series of state elections in the middle part of the year and possibly all on the same day.
Typically, national and state elections have mostly been held on the same day chosen by the incumbent prime minister. But that practice has broken down in recent years providing Malaysians with a greater democratic capacity to vote differently for each sphere of government.
Some states aligned with the then Perikatan Nasional/Barisan Nasional federal government followed traditional practice last November and dutifully held elections. Six states associated with opposition parties exerted their independence did not and now must.
But Anwar, the former Opposition Leader turned prime minister of a potentially fragmented government, will see his authority up for judgement at these polls.
In India ten states and territories are due to hold elections this year in what will be a closely watched indicator of how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dominant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national government will fare in elections likely in 2024.
The BJP is in full or coalition government in five of these regional governments which will hold elections throughout the year starting in February. The BJP runs 11 states in total and five more in coalition governments. The once dominant Congress Party only runs three states and three more in coalitions. Other parties run eight states suggesting that the only prospective alternative to the BJP at the national level will be an unruly form of cooperation between the Congress and others.
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will be hoping for an improvement in his public opinion rating ahead of polls for governors, mayors and local assembly members in April.
Support for Kishida has tumbled in the past few months to below 40 per cent due to corruption scandals, ministerial resignations and little obvious progress implementing promised economic reforms. This is despite defence and security initiatives which have raised his profile abroad.
Poor support for the Liberal Democratic party government would cast a shadow over Kishida’s biggest event this year – the hosting of the Group of Seven rich countries summit in May. A recent Yomiuri Shimbun poll found 59 per cent of respondents did not think Kishida would show leadership abilities at the summit.
While Kishida may be hanging out for a vote of public confidence, Japanese society also faces a test at these local government elections with almost a quarter of seats uncontested at the 2019 elections. Eight towns could not fill all their seats due to shrinking and ageing populations and the cost of running for office.
Indonesia is still a year away from its mega-poll in February 2024 to replace President Joko Widodo, choose 580 national assembly seats and members of local legislative bodies.
But the jostling over the ideal ticket for the president and vice-president positions is already consuming the countries with party coalitions needed to meet eligibility threshold rules for candidates.
The presidential contenders are expected to include Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, who has twice lost to Widodo; Anies Baswedan, the former Jakarta governor; serving Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo; and possibly House Speaker Puan Maharani, the daughter of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and granddaughter of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno.
The Defence Strategic Review is due to be completed in early February by former Defence minister Stephen Smith and former Chief of the Australian Defence Force Angus Houston. The government plans to respond in March alongside its decision about what sort of nuclear submarine it will acquire as part of the AUKUS agreement.
The pressure on the government has grown over the Christmas break with warnings from senior US politicians over the limited capacity in the country’s defence manufacturing industry to produce submarines for transfer of sale to Australia quickly.
In response Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has described Australia’s alliance with the US and Great Britain as among his government’s biggest challenges and “opportunities” for 2023.
- James Chin at The Conversation looks at why Southeast Asian countries remain concerned about the AUKUS agreement.
- Mark Watson at The Strategist examines the US congressional ambivalence about AUKUS competition for manufacturing capacity.
Anthony Albanese at the University of PNG Picture: @AlboMP
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade development aid policy review is due to be concluded before the middle of the year. It is aimed at taking more account of partner country views, dealing with new post-pandemic development issues, and integrating aid with new strategic realities.
The department has a pre-existing review of development finance looking at issues including infrastructure, non-cash aid, private public partnerships, and better integration with other major donors which will need to be integrated with the broader review. Consultations have already occurred on these reviews based on this document and a ten member external advisory group has been appointed.
Albanese’s new year visit to Papua New Guinea to discuss a security agreement and speak to the PNG Parliament has underlined the chasm of opinion about how Australia should reconstruct its approach to its biggest aid recipient.
- In this Radio National Breakfast debate, PNG businessman Nick Coyle calls for a massive redirection of aid to infrastructure, while Labor backbencher Josh Burns defends a mainstream diverse approach with an emphasis on governance.
- Rowan Callick argues in The Australian that PNG’s challenges were underlined by the parliament resorting to a diesel generator during Albanese’s visit.
Source: Population statement
After three years of variously closed borders, this year will see a return by Asian students and short-term workers as the Albanese government reduces a visa backlog and overhauls its immigration policy.
Universities have reported unprecedented demand for visas above pre-pandemic levels as new applications for India are set to overtake those from China for the first time. There are also big increases from Nepal and the Philippines. In the second half of last year there were 43,925 visa applications from India compared with 38,701 from China.
In a new survey by Navitas of student perceptions of foreign education shows amongst Chinese students Australia outranks the US, Britain and Canada on safety and opportunities to work while studying. Amongst South Asian students it outranks the competitors on access to post-study work, access to work while studying, and quality of education.
Meanwhile the Business Council of Australia has called for an automatic rise in migration as a percentage of population in a submission to the government’s migration review which is due to report in the early part of this year. Treasury has forecast net overseas migration to Australia of 235,000 in each of the next two years, which compares with a net departure of 85,000 in 2020-21 and a permanent net migration target of 195,000. But former immigration official Abdul Rizvi says arrivals suggest net migration this year will hit 300,000.
Meanwhile the annual population statement released this month says the population will increase to 29.9 million by 2033 which will not be as high as forecast before the pandemic.
- Julie Hare in The Australian Financial Review says the scale of interest from international students, particularly from India, has taken the higher education sector by surprise.
DEALS AND DOLLARS
The review of business with Southeast Asia is likely to report around the middle of the year in time for the Albanese government to have initiatives underway for the Asian summit season later in the year.
The review led by former Macquarie Bank chief executive Nicholas Moore aims to develop an economic strategy to 2040 after considering how emerging regional trends will change the region over the next two decades and where Australia is best placed to respond. Submissions close on January 30.
In this interview Australian Financial Review interview Moore raises questions about how much the improvement in relations with China now apparently under way might impact on the recent Australian business interest in post-China diversification to places like Southeast Asia. He says of his consultations so far: “Some of the comments made, which is interesting, is they hope they’ll continue with that intensity of building the market share and not go back to China where the opportunities are massive.”
The government’s heightened focus on business with Southeast Asia with the Moore review, the specific economic engagement strategy with Vietnam and the Team Australia focus on Indonesia has suffered some potential setbacks in the new year.
Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, two deputy prime ministers and several other officials have been forced from office as part of a crackdown on corruption by Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong. Some of those outed have been associated with greater foreign economic contact including Australia’s economic engagement strategy while Trong appears to be pursuing a consolidation of power akin to that pursued by his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
Meanwhile the breakdown of the Sun Cable solar power export partnership between Fortescue’s Andrew Forrest and Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brooks maybe a setback for the Albanese government’s push for more investment in Indonesia. The proposed power cable to Singapore via Indonesia involved considerable investment in Indonesia and promised the sort of long term “patient” capital needed for Australian business success there. It would also involve joint investment with Singapore entities.
Trading up … ambassador Xiao Qian Picture: NCA
The prospect of the tensions with China over wine and barley exports being resolved outside the World Trade Organization dispute system appear to have increased based on comments from both sides.
The first meeting of trade ministers since 2019 is likely to happen within weeks following a meeting between junior ministers Tim Ayers and Wang Shouwen at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Trade minister Don Farrell had previously said in an ABC interview: “I'd be happy to meet with my Chinese counterpart at any stage and in any place to try and resolve by discussion, rather than disputation ... I'm still ready to do that … The signs are good, let's be clear about that.”
Meanwhile Ambassador Xiao Qian said Australian and Chinese trade negotiators in Geneva had begun discussing the possibility of Australia dropping its WTO challenge to punitive tariffs on barley and wine, saying such a move would be a “good idea”. “Bilateral is much easier to find a solution instead of going through the multilateral forum,” he said in a Canberra press conference on January 10.
Despite the emphasis on how Australia had successfully diversified after the Chinese trade impediments on about $20 billion in exports of wine, barley, lobsters, coal and timber, representatives of many of those industries now are still conceding they are still suffering from the action. Coal and lobster exporters, who are not subject to the WTO actions, have expressed the greatest confidence of a reopening.
Meanwhile the Australia China Business Council president David Olsson told The Australian Financial Review there was pent up demand from Australian exporters and others involved in China business to resume travel to the mainland but there would be little actual travel until February or March after the Lunar New Year.
- Former international trade official Gary Sampson says in this op-ed that China could quietly ease the wine and barley export tariffs on the basis that the claimed dumping impact on its economy had been reduced.
India seems set to get the most intense attention as a rising bilateral economic growth partner this year due to the entry into force of the new trade agreement, India’s role as the Group of 20 countries chair, the prospect its population will overtake China’s, and the rapid growth in the local Indian diaspora led by student flows.
Trade minister Don Farrell has said: “It will be worth a great deal of money and benefit to Australia … We hope that our trade deal with India gives us that opportunity to diversify our trading relationship so that we're not relying on one large economy to sell our products into … We want to build upon those (existing) good relations to ensure that we have a terrific potential new trading partner of great significance to Australia.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will visit in March and there is an expectation his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi will make a return visit later in the year. The growing list of measures to try to establish a deeper economic relationship beyond the slow moving trade liberalisation approach range from the new Centre for Australia-India Relations to a green steel partnership to an innovation network.
"We have to be vigilant because when it comes to policy and strategy, nothing fundamental seems to have changed on (China’s) part. We would like to see this change of tone, change of tactical approach, leading to the change of policies and measures on their part.
As China is entitled to its (COVID) measures, Japan, Australia and other countries are entitled to their own measures. So, I’m a bit concerned about usage of such words as retaliation. What is that for? What is required is enhanced openness, transparency.
(Australia) cannot sit on the luxury of long distance anymore. And if you look at an undue influence of politicians, or investment in infrastructure which could be detrimental to your national security, or cyber attacks, they have nothing to do with distance … I think Australia and Japan are facing common challenges."
- Japanese ambassador Shingo Yamagami in The Australian (January 10)
"I’m afraid our colleague from Japan is not doing his job. In the Second World War Japan invaded Australia, bombed Darwin, killed Australians and … it was humanly unacceptable. Look at the video, YouTube, the pictures, the photos.
The Japanese government has not apologised for that up to today. They do not apologise means they don’t accept it’s wrong. And they might repeat the history.
There are a handful of people, a handful of political forces in that country, who are taking a twisted way of looking at history. A twisted way of looking at China, a twisted way of looking at the relationship between China and Australia, that is not constructive, that is not helpful."
- Chinese ambassador Xiao Qian at the Chinese embassy (January 10)
"We have a very positive relationship with Japan. I have visited Japan twice as Prime Minister and hosted Prime Minister Kishida at a very successful visit in Perth at the end of last year. I look forward to hosting Prime Minister Kishida here in some time in 2023 as part of the Quad leaders meeting.
With China, we also want to see an improvement in relations. I believe that the ambassador's comments were positive and constructive about those issues. I met with President Xi last year. That was a positive meeting, it led to the Foreign Minister visiting Beijing on the 21st of December to commemorate the 50th anniversary of positive relations between Australia and the People's Republic of China.
I look forward to continuing to build on that constructive dialogue, I want to cooperate with China where we can, we will disagree where we must, but will engage in our national interest."
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (January 11)