Dr Pulch said Australia made a strategic decision after announcing its push for a review to back the EU motion and then “to toughen it up a bit”.
“That was probably the winning formula,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. “It created momentum that is for sure.”
Dr Pulch, who was previously a deputy chief of mission in China, said Australia and the EU’s hand was forced by a retreating US. He said the middle-power diplomacy model could become crucial to future negotiations.
“There was a leadership vacuum and we were able to fill it,” he said. “If you look at this motion, in the end both China and the US could have supported it. If either of them would have moved forward with it, it would have probably been blocked.
“You need to have some sort of facilitator, moderator to create a landing zone that is acceptable for both parties.”
The ambassador said the EU had reassessed its relationship with China, recognising it was both an important economic partner and a systemic rival, and was watching developments in Australia’s “intensive” relationship with Beijing closely.
“For a long time, there was this expectation or aspiration perhaps that with economic development in China, political development would follow but it didn’t or it happened in a different way,” he said.
“When they claim that they lifted millions of people out of poverty, yes they did – but they did this also with the help of transfer of financial means, investment, jobs and technology that helped create the basis for the economic miracle that we have seen.”
Dr Pulch also urged countries including Australia to go to an interim mechanism at the World Trade Organisation, which China has signed up for, to settle trade disputes linked to diplomatic spats. He said similar tactics had used been used in a European trade dispute after a country had stood up to it diplomatically. China maintains the two issues are not linked.
“That will force China at one stage to basically show its hand – whether it was a political decision or whether it was a different decision,” he said.
“It’s… China’s way of expressing displeasure with what you’re doing. What is important, I think, is that one tries to separate these things as you [Australia] do at this time.”
The comments come amid deep internal angst within the Labor Party over MPs blaming the trade dispute on the Morrison government’s actions in pushing for a review.
In two separate televised interviews on Thursday, Mr Fitzgibbon directly linked the trade dispute with the global review – directly contradicting Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong.
Senator Wong said on Thursday federal Labor had taken the view “that the two matters are not linked and nor should they be”.
Mr Fitzgibbon, the opposition’s agriculture spokesman, said there was always going to be an inquiry.
“We didn’t need to be out there in front, offending the Chinese. And if we hadn’t done that, we might not be having some of the diplomatic relationship troubles we’re having at the moment,” Mr Fitzgibbon told the ABC on Thursday afternoon.
One Labor MP said they were “astonished” Mr Fitzgibbon had taken such a vocal stance considering the events which led to his resignation as Defence Minister in 2009.
Mr Fitzgibbon was forced to quit the frontbench after a series of scandals including a failure to declare two trips he took to China in 2002 and 2005, which were paid for by Chinese-born businesswoman Helen Liu.
“It is unhelpful and against the party position,” one Labor MP said.
Eryk Bagshaw is the China correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Due to travel restrictions, he is currently based in Parliament House in Canberra.
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.