The incoming Chinese Ambassador to Australia, Zhang Jun Sai, is a veteran diplomat in the South Pacific Region. He was political secretary at the Chinese Embassy in Canberra till late 2000, Ambassador to Fiji from November 2002 to January 2004, and deputy director general of the North America and Oceania Affairs department at China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs prior to his Canberra posting, beginning late March 2007.
He has been diplomatically well trained in a wide range of skills; and has a broad knowledge of the affairs of countries in North America and Oceania. His experience of China's policies towards these countries makes him a well-equipped ambassador.
He replaces the outgoing Madame Fu Ying, who was extremely capable and active on the Australian diplomatic scene, although China's diplomatic standing took a dive when the First Secretary at the Sydney Consulate-General, Chen Yonglin, defected and applied for political asylum in May 2005. The affair highlighted how much China's influence extended into political, business and media circles in Australia, and the bullying manner in which it was often exercised.
At the top level, Li Zhao Xing, incumbent Chinese foreign minister and Sha Zukang, China's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva are both infamous for their stubborn, rude and undiplomatic manner.
Li Zhao Xing, once ambassador to the US, was noted for public arguments with US officials, which caused considerable embarrassment. It is worthwhile mentioning that Sha Zukang shocked the world by his undiplomatically abrupt language in an interview with the BBC regarding the concerns of the West and the US for China's underreported military expenditure.
On the issue of China's international standing, and especially Taiwan's international recognition, all Chinese diplomats tend to be sensitive and tough, displaying no signs of any room for compromise. In March 2000, when Zhang Jun Sai was political secretary of the Chinese Embassy, he called his Australian counterpart and claimed grave diplomatic interference and dissatisfaction over Australia's invitation to a senior official of the Taiwan Foreign Affairs ministry to visit Australia.
But all this does not necessarily reflect the personal attitudes of ambassadors and other diplomats: it is part and parcel of China's foreign relations. China's diplomats, from low-level staff up to the ambassadors are all part of a Chinese government controlled machine. The private personalities and views of diplomats have no place in the Foreign Ministry under the tight grip of the Chinese Communist government.
So while the new ambassador is known to be experienced and capable, his role is essentially that of a salesman: to defend and popularise policies that are made in Beijing.
Despite its relative smallness, Australia possesses considerable importance to China. China understands Australia’s friendly relationship with Japan, with Indonesia and the countries of ASEAN, and the strategic importance of its military links with the US and Asia-Pacific nations.
The incoming ambassador will continue the policy of consistent persuasion and seduction to undermine the US-Australia alliance in particular, and to consolidate Australia-China relations. China's huge purchasing capacity for Australia's raw materials and its seemingly enormous domestic markets will be used as effective tools to lure Australia closer to China in dealings with future international or regional relationships and conflicts of interest.
Current Chinese diplomacy is dominated by "energy diplomacy", because energy supplies are the bottleneck to China's sustainable economic development. Frequent visits by Chinese leaders to energy rich countries are a sign of this. One key task for the new ambassador will be to maintain the favourable status quo in Australia over sales of uranium and natural gas to China.
In the process, China's total lack of democracy, and its appalling record on human rights are completely overlooked. Trade and money are thought to be more important. My fear is that as this process continues, Australia may gradually drift away from its firm position as part of the Western Alliance, and from its close relationship with the US.
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