Former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has recounted an extraordinary meeting with her Chinese counterpart, in which the pair sat silently staring at each other over dinner after a diplomatic dispute.
- Ms Bishop admitted Australia was “in the bad books” over comments she made about the South China Sea
- She said China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi later became a “dear friend”
- She also discussed her failed bid for the leadership when Malcolm Turnbull was toppled
In a lengthy sit down with Andrew Denton’s Interview program on Channel Seven, Ms Bishop said the dinner occurred after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gave her a public “dressing down” during a bilateral meeting in Beijing.
“Australia was in the bad books because we had made … well, I had made some public statements about China in the South China Sea,” Ms Bishop said.
“Because he spoke in Mandarin, he gave this opening speech in front of all the Chinese media.
“And I’m sitting there happily, thinking this is fine, and Frances Adamson, who was our ambassador, wrote ‘this is going terribly badly’.
“Essentially he was giving me a dressing down like you can’t believe.”
Ms Bishop said she was furious with Mr Wang, whom she now describes as a “dear friend”, and said the pair then sat in silence, staring at each other over dinner, for an hour.
“That’s why we have ambassadors,” she said, prompting laughter from the audience.
“They then sort it out after you’ve left the country.”
In another anecdote, Ms Bishop recalled taking a “big swig” of what she thought was Chinese tea during a formal foreign ministers’ dinner in Cambodia, only to spit it out when she realised it was whisky.
“I looked across the table and there was the rather tall and imposing Russian Foreign Minister … Then he opened his jacket and there was a hip flask of Johnnie Walker,” she said.
Ms Bishop also detailed her failed bid for the leadership when Malcolm Turnbull was toppled last year, saying she felt an “overwhelming responsibility” to put herself forward.
“I also felt that I owed it to the women of Australia because I’d been the deputy and, you know, criticised, “oh she’s always the bridesmaid,” she said.
“And many of them were wonderful supporters to me, I didn’t want them to think ‘oh, she hasn’t got the courage to stand even though she might lose’.”
Ms Bishop said she was late to enter the three-cornered contest between herself, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and now Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in which she received only 11 votes.
Ms Bishop is the next chancellor of the Australian National University. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)
“Perhaps if I’d had more time, because I was the last into the race, I waited until Malcolm had actually announced that he wasn’t going to contest. Whereas others didn’t.”
Ms Bishop said she found it “disturbing” she was the only female minister in Tony Abbott’s 2013 Cabinet and described an experience she labelled “gender deafness”.
“I love men, and I think they have a wonderful contribution to make to humanity, but if you’re only female voice in the room they just don’t seem to hear you.”
Ms Bishop retired from politics at the May election and has since been announced as the next chancellor of the Australian National University.
She also joined the board of Palladium, a move which was scrutinised but cleared by the Prime Minister’s Department following allegations it breached ministerial standards.
Ms Bishop said her swift exit from the House of Representatives after her final speech was not intended as a snub to Mr Morrison, saying she did not realise he would pay tribute to her in the chamber.
“You might note that I get a catch in my voice and I thought oh my god I’m going to cry on camera,” she said.
“So I took a few pecks on the cheek and then I went out because I thought the last thing I’m going to do is cry in the House of Reps, I mean seriously.”