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Doctored Indignation: Australia-China Relations

Clay foot diplomacy is all the rage in Canberra, and the Australian government has become a solid practitioner. Having stuck its neck out across continents and seas to proclaim the need to investigate China over the origins of the novel coronavirus, the Morrison government now finds itself in the tightest of corners. Very much one to bite the hand that feeds it, Australia is trying to prove in international relations that you can, from behind the curtain, provoke your largest trading partner while still hoping to trade with it.

China is not of that view, seeing Australia’s policy towards it in recent years as a log of disagreeable actions. The Chinese tech giant Huawei was excluded from its 5G network. Ten investment deals across a range of industries have also been blocked, including animal husbandry, infrastructure and agriculture. They have seen Australia strident on what China regards as matters of domestic concern: Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Australia is also finding itself ever more comfortable in relationships such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, where it keeps company with the United States, Japan and India in an arrangement that is well on the way to becoming “openly anti-China.”

The ones to endure the “deep reflexion” demanded of Australia by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian have not been politicians. It has fallen to the importers and exporters to receive Beijing’s directed fury. In May, the Australia-China barley trade was all but eliminated by tariffs in the order of 80.5 per cent. In November, tariffs ranging from 107 to 200 per cent were imposed on Australian wine, a sorry blow for Australian wine makers salivating at courting some 52 million wine drinkers in the PRC. Australia’s largest wine company, Treasury Wine Estates, claimed to have received a tariff rate of 169.3 per cent. As the managing director of Clare Valley’s Taylor Wines, Mitchell Taylor, explained, “A tariff of this scale will basically kill the industry overnight.” Winemakers in neighbouring New Zealand, and those in France and Chile, will be happy to see a rival in the Chinese market so dramatically shrunk.

Australian farmers and traders are baffled, and more than a touch concerned that Canberra has misjudged the situation. Feeble suggestions occupy ministerial briefs about whether China can be taken to the World Trade Organisation. Trade minister Simon Birmingham has been unable to secure a line with his Chinese counterparts. There is not much by way of tea and conversation being had by the two sides.

Then came a doctored image from Chinese political computer graphic artist Fu Yu. It’s in the old image of propaganda accounts: use a murdering, invading soldier as a prop. Find a suitable, vulnerable civilian. In this case, the picture centres upon what is supposed to be an Australian soldier and an Afghan child. The soldier has his blood smeared knife pressed against the child’s throat. The child is holding a lamb. The picture is helpfully captioned: “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace.”

Provocative and apt enough: the Australian effort in Afghanistan, along with those of other forces, has been marked by an irregular war of relentless savagery that has tended to elude domestic understanding. Australia’s own role has been distinguished by a lengthy spell of action by special forces that were found by the recently released Brereton war crimes inquiry to have committed a goodly number of civilian killings.

China’s foreign ministry sensed an opportunity. On November 30, Zhao Lijian tweeted the image. “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers,” he chided. “We strongly condemn such acts & call for holding them accountable.” Prime Minister Scott Morrison, instead of ignoring it as a provocative prod with hook attached, was all indignant and promptly fell for the hook. “The post made today, the repugnant post made today of a falsified image of an Australian soldier threatening a young child with a knife, a post made on an official Chinese government account, posted by the deputy director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is truly repugnant.”



In making such a statement, Morrison gave the coverage on Australian atrocities and misdeeds in Afghanistan even more air. He returned to hollow notions of noble soldiers in uniform sent overseas to do kindly things, ignoring their nastier missions. Australian Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Frances Adamson called upon the Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye to lodge an official complaint. Pleas were made to Twitter to take down the image but on this occasion, the social media platform has not been for turning. An apology from China’s ministry of foreign affairs is also being sought.

Such moves have led to a cycle of mocking and rebuke. “On what grounds does Morrison feel angry over the use of this cartoon by the spokesperson of Chinese FM?” asked Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times, a state-owned publication. For his part, Fu felt didactic, telling Morrison “to make sure his Government’s military force becomes more disciplined to avoid any similar international tragedy.”



Having found himself in full righteous gear, Morrison has unconvincingly called “on China to re-engage in … dialogue. This is how countries must deal with each other to ensure we can deal with any issues in our relationship, consistent with our national interests and respect for each other’s sovereignty. Not engaging in deplorable behaviour.” Unfortunately for the prime minister, international relations are very much about deplorable behaviour, something which Australia has not been exempt from.


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  1. Karen Kyle

    Yeah well…..speaking of confected rage….China is a master of it.

    The point is China is facing big economic problems even before Covid. They are short of American Dollars which they need to pay down the massive debt they have run up in the last ten years alone, and to pay for the imports to keep running their economy.

    Chinese steel makers and power stations were told months ago they would have to use domestic coal to cut their import bill.

    The Chinese have used all their good quality coal and now have only poor quatity stuff left which is full of impurities and causes air worse air pollution than good quality coal.

    Now that Hong Kong is now longer a financial hub and a reliable source of American dollars Chinese Government and big companies are selling bonds. So far several big companies have defaulted on their repayment of bonds and they said they will default on the next two payouts.

    China has a poor record when it comes to paying back money they have raised from the bond market.

    The Nationalist Government raised millions in Bonds to pay for the war against the Japanese and the civil war. When the CCP took over they refused to pay back the loans.

    As part of the deal negotiated with Maggie Thatcher re the Hong Kong handover the CCP was forced into paying back British investors. Too bad for thousands of other bond holders. They miss out.

    And it is impossible to get money out of China. The CCP has total control over the economy. They don’t want to see capital flight so they stop it.

    Big Western Corporations can’tget their money out of China, but at the moment they are keeping mum about it, because they hope to eventually get it out and go back into China and make more. Dont poke the Dragon.

    Chinese citizens who want to get money out where it can be safely invested in the West where there are property rights and the rule of law are forced to buy precious stones and have them smuggled out.

    The world’s biggest art auction happens every year in Europe with hundreds of Chinese buyers participating by phone and internet as well as in person. This last year…..none.

    China’s rage against Australia is heavily confected and entirely strategic. Not only must they cut their import bills they can use that necessity to punish Australia for our seeming crimes. After all if the Chinese can’t stand over and dictate to a sprat like New Zealand or small fry like Australia they are not going to have much success anywhere else. They are desperate to bend us to their will as an
    example of what will happen to other countries. No bloody way.

  2. B Sullivan

    For every cloud…

    The Australia environment has been ravaged by rampant agricultural exploitation that is tolerated by politicians because the regions where the exploitation is occurring determine who will be elected to government. 70% of this exploitation is committed for the sake of the export market and is not, as China is demonstrating, serving anyone’s genuine need. Agricultural exports are not vital to Australia’s economy. Environmentally they cost far more than they are worth.

    With the failing export markets the regions will be obliged to reduce agricultural production and it is beginning to look like they are waking up to the benefits of becoming producers of renewable energy which would be a much better alternative.

  3. Josephus

    Well Britain, France, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, used to be the bully boys. The worm turns. Don’t like it do we diddums?

  4. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    The Morrison Government shoud not receive bipartisan support for its trade and investment disputes with China. Australia has a large deposit of $Aus 5 billionin the Beijing -based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which commenced under the Abbott Government. This commitment should justify our involvement in Belt and Road Projects (BRIs) in South East Asia and Australian development at a time when our public sector investment trendlines are in reverse.

  5. Neilw

    When it came to the Muhammad cartoons, Morrison types said ‘get over it’. A lesson in power, if nothing else for Scummo, the Hapless

  6. Andrew J. Smith

    Hardly surprising when Australian governments, MPs and media are prepared to do the bidding of the White House and its own trade issues with China through domestic media dog whistling and reacting to provocations; who does our govt. work for to risk Australia’s own trade position e.g. with the cop out claim/need for ‘deleveraging from China’?

    Bit like shock horror when a white nationalist emerges and shoots up a mosque after decades of dog whistling in Australian politics and/or media…. calls for immigration restrictions against Moslems because they provoke such negative sentiments and outrages…..

  7. Harry Lime

    One thing is strikingly clear,having connived his way through life and into the Prime Ministership ,he is hopelessly out of his depth in the job he thought he so deserved,let alone international diplomacy.He, and his so called ‘government’ are a travesty and an abomination.Howard and his cronies were bad enough,but Morrison and his rabble of shitkicking quislings are a new low.The emperor is stark naked.

  8. A Commentator

    It’s interesting that those most inclined to condemn the domestc policies and human rights abuses in the US are those that are most reluctant to criticise the appalling human rights record of the Chinese Government.
    It is also clear that the actions snd provocations of the Chinese Government are a result of Australian Government decisions, rather than careless words-
    ° Excluding Huawei from the telecommunications industry on national security advice
    ° The foreign agents legislation, also on national security advice
    ° Expressing misgivings about the Victorian Belt & Roads agreement
    The careless comments by Australian politicians won’t bother them as much as the above.
    Does anyone propose ignoring national security advice?

  9. mark delmege

    John Menadue on 2 dec2020 wrote a very short piece on the Brereton report and I’ll tale a couple of quotes from his article ‘There they would be tied up and tortured by Special Forces, sometimes for days. When the Special Forces left, the men and boys would be found dead: shot in the head or blindfolded and with throats slit.’
    two 14-year-old boys whom they decided might be Taliban sympathisers. They stopped, searched the boys and slit their throats. The rest of the Troop then had to ‘clean up the mess’, which involved bagging the bodies and throwing them into a nearby river.
    These were quotes from the Report itself. I’ll give the link if people cant find it.
    China has been smashed in the Australian media and by the ABC in particular with unrelenting anti China propaganda. As ugly as anything that came with McCarthyism or the more recent Russia didit bullshit. Its just the sort of mess those over at the Atlantic Council have been pressing.

  10. Karen Kyle

    Harry Lime,

    Be that as it may, Scomo is not equipped for this role, but then again hardly anyone is. The situation is fraught and more complex than Scomo simply doing what Trump wanted. That is the least of it.

    Western Intelligence Agencies have been warning their Governments for years about the dangers of Chinese overwhelming ambition and determination to rule the roost. And the first warning came from the Soviet Union. What do you think the breach between China and the Soviet Union was about?

    China was determined to become the leader of the Communist world and the Soviet Union had to take it’s rightful place as the supplicant and vassal of the SU….at a time when the Soviets were doing their utmost to help China industrialise and modern

    The USA was delighted when this breach became apparent, because the Soviets and China together was too big to fight.

    The USA was warned because the Soviets told them, but they were in denial and certain they could manage China.

    As the years went on they began to realise that their Intelligence Agencies were right and China could not be managed although they would accept all kinds of help from the West, e.g. education of their kids in western universities just as a beginning.

    Jimmy Lai the Hong Kong democracy activist said that Trump was the first American President to see China without the cautious, filter, without the denial because Trump knew a gangster when he saw one.
    And over the years China’s behaviour was becoming more and more worrying.

    The rise of Authoritaran regimes around the world has given them enormous confidence. They are certain Liberal Democracies are on the way out and everybody will have to do things China’s way, which is terrifying, especially to the people of Hong Kong many of whom fled the Communist regime.

    Now China is fighting the whole world, not just Australia. All you have to do is wait and watch as the situation unfolds. Europe is of offside with China and not because of Trump. Because of China. South America and Canada are well and truly pissed off and not because of America, because of China.

    Japan and some of the Asean Countries are very wary. They know China of old from the time when they were vassal states and they no longer want to be vassal states to China.

    The China problem has little to do with Trump. It is much begger than one idiot crooked American President.

    We will see what Biden can do to handle it. It is going to take every ounce of diplomatic and political skill as well as the Five Eyes and The Quad. The UK wants into the Quad, and so might Russia. Putin said that the Quad needs to be more open and inclusive.

    China wants all the central Asian territories Russia regards as its sphere of influence, and it wants Vladivostock. Russia is not happy.

  11. Karen Kyle


    The situation re Australian speial forces is as bad as a situation can be. It was investigated because of whistleblowers. They were listened to. The results of the investigtion were made public. The law will take it’s course. Not satisfactory I know, but it wouldn’t happen in Russia or China. Such atrocities would just be covered up.

  12. mark delmege

    The whistle blower is actually very good value, he did a utube with syrian girl. He has been though a lot and is still up on charges. Australia has one of the most controlled media in the world and a very secretive government.

  13. wam

    So much for robb’s free trade agreement, I wonder if he is still getting his $750000 pa gift from china?
    ps karen
    our atrocities occurred from 2005, so far but angus alluded to history ‘modern times’,
    america’s for donkey’s years and they are still desperately chasing assange.
    Seems cover up is rife here there everywhere? If it cannot be covered up, mogadishu, it is ignored?

  14. Henry Rodrigues

    So what’s Scummo’s next move in this chess match with the Chinese Communist Party, going to be ? WeChat has taken down Summo’s abject begging plea to the chinese expatriates here in Australia (who overwhelmingly vote Liberal ), to beg them to ask their compatriots back in the mainland, to go easy on him and save his arse. Notice how Scummo didn’t even appeal to the crinkled old bastard, it would do any good anyway.

    No slick media handout or pictures of daggy dad building cubby houses or sipping beers on a beach in Hawaii, is going to sway the hardheads in the CCP. Trump and Scummo, dickheads, peas in a pod, full of piss and wind.

  15. Justbychance

    You’ll learn more about what happened in Afghanistan in one hour by listening to this podcast than you would by listening and watching the ABC (and all the rest of Australian MSM) for five years. By the way if you’re listening in the US this went out over Pacifica Radio. At least the US still has the semblance of free speech! Australia not so much


    We’re deep. deep in war crimes doo doo. Time to apologise to the world and punish the perpetrators. Starting with John Howard.

  16. Karen Kyle

    Canada had to abandon it’s special forces the problems of war crimes were so acute. There are rumours circulating about the British and American
    SAS or whatever they are called.Maybe the time has come to abandon the lot of them.

  17. Matters Not

    Justbychance, thanks for the link and while I haven’t listened I suspect it’s somewhat shocking. That much of the really bad bits were redacted in the local Report says much. One wonders how long before they too are leaked.

    There’s much talk about attributing responsibility up the chain of command and that’s probably necessary and desirable. Indeed, it’s probably essential that we begin pursuing responsibility into the political realm as well. It wasn’t the soldiers that decided to go to war. Rather the order came from their political masters. Even a cursory reading of the history of the generalised area would show that it was a cultural minefield – way outside the understanding of the average foot soldier.

    Note also a good question above,

    Does anyone propose ignoring national security advice

    Indeed – it’s worthy of a response. And perhaps via other questions. Was the source of this national security advice, the same one that led us into Vietnam? Afghanistan? Iraq? and Korea? Are we ever told if that advice is unanimous – or not? Perhaps Andrew Wilkie might get a mention? And perhaps advice equates to an order if it comes from a foreign source?

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