Turnbull readies first China visit

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is readying to make his first visit to China since he took office – most likely in April according to talk in government and corporate Australia.

April makes the most sense in terms of free air, political insiders say, if he is to make the trip before the election. It is important to China that he does, as these things go, as he has already visited Japan and the US.

Unlike his two predecessors – who were awkward on the international stage – Mr Turnbull is extremely familiar with China as InnovationAus.com has noted previously. He has made many private visits there over the years, with his wife Lucy.

Malcolm in the Middle Kingdom: Plans are afoot for China

He also has a Chinese daughter-in-law but it’s probably a relief to the Chinese that he doesn’t, like Kevin Rudd, speak the language.

The other country with whom Australia has an (increasingly) significant relationship that the PM would probably like to tick off before a poll is India.

Both, of course, are the technology behemoths of the region and visits to them would help advance the centre piece of Mr Turnbull’s premiership so far – the innovation push.

This is particularly important in light of the floundering on tax policy that has been so evident in recent weeks.

It is something of a relief that the PM appears – at least for now – to have decided to avoid the Boao Forum for Asia for a few reasons:

  • It is hellishly difficult to get to, and eats into precious time on the ground in China.
  • It hands one Australian entrepreneur, Fortescue Metals Group founder and chairman Andrew Forrest a particularly good photo opportunity – as he has long been a major sponsor of the summit – as well as his hand-picked delegates to the Australia-China business dialogue that takes place within the Forum.
  • And, apart from the recent regular appearances by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and the former Australian PMs (Gillard and Abbott) the majority of other national leaders at Boao are, ahem, despots.

In 2014, for instance, Mr Abbott shared the stage with the Prime Ministers of Kazakhstan, Laos, Namibia and Pakistan and the Deputy Prime Ministers of Russia and Vietnam. You get the drift.

April is also the month that Andrew Robb will lead his all-singing, all-dancing trade mission to nine Chinese cities (at the latest count).

It would be sensible not to let one event overshadow the other, allowing the government to get the best political bang for the China buck.

But Austrade is certainly whispering to aspiring attendees that Mr Turnbull will make some appearance, so again, most likely at one or other end of Mr Robb’s April 11-15 shebang.

Nationals leader Warren Truss is not making it easy for Robb, as he is dragging the chain on his own “Kirribilli Agreement” to graciously retire and cede power to deputy Barnaby Joyce who, as Agriculture Minister is one of more than a dozen federal and state ministers penciled in to join the business caravan.

This has stalled Turnbull’s overdue reshuffle, but the latest word on the street is that this will now happen at Easter. (Time is a ticking Mr Truss as Lent starts today.)

Still, perhaps the escalating furor over Human Services Minister Stuart Robert’s decision to travel to for China in 2014 for a “signing ceremony” with his friend and Liberal donor Paul Marks will hurry things along.

Mr Turnbull will know full well how much weight the Chinese put on having officials – such as Ministers – at such things.

After that Mr Turnbull can relax, lie back and think of China.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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