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China takes aim at ‘commander’ Marles as no better than Dutton

Andrew Tillett
Andrew TillettPolitical correspondent

Chinese state media has warned that Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles is risking the repair of ties with Beijing with tough rhetoric, accusing him of positioning himself as the “forward theatre commander” for the United States military in the region.

Amid the delicate rapprochement between Canberra and Beijing, nationalistic Chinese tabloid The Global Times published an editorial that said Mr Marles had become one of the new government’s “most aggressive actors against China”.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin. AP

“Marles’ image as the new defense minister is now becoming blurred,” the editorial said.

“From Tokyo to New Delhi to Washington, Marles’ string of comments on the so-called China threat make it increasingly difficult to distinguish him from his extremely anti-China Liberal predecessor Peter Dutton.

“In less than two months, Marles has rushed to reverse the outside world’s impression of him as being ‘rational’ toward China, and it has also raised more doubts about the willingness of the new Australian administration to improve relations with China.”


Mr Marles’ office declined to respond to the attack. The minister was in the United States last week, where he met US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, received updated briefings on progress towards acquiring nuclear submarines and gave several speeches.

The Global Times said Mr Marles “repeatedly advocated that Australia and the US should work together to contain China”. The newspaper also took umbrage at a speech he gave to a US think-tank, where Mr Marles said the US and Australian militaries would “move beyond interoperability to interchangeability”.

The newspaper claimed such an approach would see the Australian Defence Force “plug-in” to the US military,

“Marles’ remarks suggest that he is ready to serve as a “forward theater commander” of the US,” the newspaper wrote.

“Judging from the strengths of Australian and US forces, the so-called interoperability or interchangeability will undoubtedly be a one-way ‘operation’ of the US to the Australian military, and the result will be a greater integration of the Australian military into the US global military system, driven by Washington.

“Just as some Australian media noted, Marles did not only degrade himself, but actually belittled the whole of Australia, which is tantamount to surrendering Australia’s sovereignty to the US.”


China’s criticism of Mr Marles stands in contrast to pre-election attacks on him by the former Morrison government in which he was accused of being a Manchurian candidate because of previous comments about the need to cooperate with China, as well as meeting Chinese diplomats on multiple occasions.

Post-election, Mr Marles was the first Australian minister to hold face-to-face talks with their Chinese counterpart in almost three years when he met General Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of a security summit in Singapore last month – a meeting that was seen as a concession by Beijing about the need to improve the bilateral relationship.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior fellow Peter Jennings said the Global Times piece was “crazily over the top” and showed China had misjudged the new government.

Given it was an editorial, which was at the top of the hierarchy for articles for state-run media, “we’ve got to take it in some ways as being a message from the Chinese Communist Party”, Mr Jennings added.

“It shows they badly misread Marles. They thought Marles was malleable and that’s why they put in such an effort with the previous ambassador to talk to him.”

Andrew Tillett writes on politics, foreign affairs, defence and security from the Canberra press gallery. Connect with Andrew on Facebook and Twitter. Email Andrew at

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