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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. 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.

  2. Josephus

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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…..

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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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