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Pandemic Diplomacy: The Gum on China’s Shoe

“Australia is always there, making trouble. It is a bit like chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes. Sometimes you have to find a stone to rub it off.” (Hu Xijin, Global Times editor, April 27, 2020).

Disasters always invite blame – divine, natural, human – and the current calls of blame being directed with vengeful spleen have one target. The People’s Republic of China is being accused for everything from having shoddy and irreverent diplomats to having dubious and duplicitous scientists wickedly unleashing viruses. Australia, in China’s heavy debt for keeping its fossil fuel industry boosted and primed, is happy to be the stalking horse of powers keen to find the culpable and the guilty for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The main thrust of the recent “target China” approach is the use of that mechanism any sovereign state will be suspicious over: an independent inquiry into the origins and ultimate transmission of COVID-19. Such an inquiry serves two purposes: to identify the cause of the coronavirus and vest the relevant investigative body with powers akin to those of a weapons inspector. Two parties end up being tarred in this: the World Health Organization, considered unreformable, and the PRC, considered recalcitrant.

This seems to be an Australian brainchild as much as anything else, a provincial and parochial effort to shore up support and garner prominence on the international stage. Australian politicians have seen such suggestions as benign and benevolent. As Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne described it, “Australia has made a principled call for an independent review of the COVID-19 outbreak, an unprecedented global crisis with severe health, economic and social impacts.”

Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Senator Penny Wong sees things similarly. “We have to press for what is right,” she claims somewhat bombastically, “what we believe is right, for us and for the international community, and making sure that humanity understands how this virus started is the right thing to do.” Canberra has ceased talking to China, and any sense of conviviality has dried up. Support, instead, is being sought in France, Germany and the United States.

French President Emmanuel Macron has responded with diplomatic caution. In the words of an Élysée official, he agreed that “there have been some issues at the start, but that the urgency is for cohesion, and that it is no time to talk about this, while reaffirming the need for transparency for all players, not only the WHO.”

This is the language Beijing has hoovered up, with its envoy in Australia, Cheng Jingye, remarking that, “Resorting to suspicion, recrimination or division at such a critical time could only undermine global efforts to fight against this pandemic.” China’s ministry of foreign affairs spokesman Geng Shuang put the point less severely. “The urgent task for all countries is focusing on international cooperation rather than pointing fingers, demanding accountability and other non-constructive approaches.”

This is not a view taken in Australia. Comments by Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton this month suggest that unison and cohesion are not exactly on the briefing notes of ministers. As he claimed in an interview, it was “incumbent upon China to answer those questions [on COVID-19] and provide information, so that people can have clarity about exactly what happened because we don’t want it repeated.” For good measure, he added that “we know that this is not the first instance of a virus being spread from the wildlife wet markets and we need to be honest about that.” These remarks were made after an oblique reference to US State Department “documentation” supposedly detailing the spread of the coronavirus, something which Dutton personally had not read.

The Chinese embassy, ruffled, responded accordingly, using the Global Times as their platform. In the view of a spokesperson, Dutton would surely have consulted the US documents before enthusiastically launching into an attack on China. “Obviously he must have also received some instructions from Washington requiring him to cooperate with the US in its propaganda war against China.” Cheng has not shied away from threats, suggesting that a boycott of Australian goods would be an appropriate response to any Australian-led inquiry. “Maybe the ordinary people will say, ‘Why should he drink Australian wine? Eat Australian beef?’”

As with much in such spluttering accusation, kernels of truth are discernible in the foam. Australia remains the unquestioned sentinel of US designs in the Asia-Pacific, and should never be confused with being with the angels of impartiality. Any sense of that was killed off in the brief and dying days of the Whitlam government. Washington sees Canberra as a natural front for Chinese containment, though such an effort requires gentle padding and coating to lend a certain plausible effect. This involves, for instance, the avoidance of terms such as the “militarisation” of Northern Australia, or US “garrisons” operating on home soil. Terms such as “rotation” and “friendship” are preferred.

Sentiment in Australia against Beijing is now almost militant, watered by claims of domestic interference from the PRC, cyberwarfare, and disputes in the South China Sea. It is to be found in the usual pea-shot pugilists at Sky News to the otherwise more cautious assessments in Fairfax and The Guardian Australia. “At the moment,” suggests Richard McGregor, “Beijing is like someone who lends you a book and urges you to skip the horrifying opening chapters and flip straight to the end, where the hero – in this case, the party-state – prevails, shining a path for the rest of the world to follow.”

An international investigation along the lines being proposed by Australia would also involve its own bit of chapter skipping, with China being found to be the villain at the yawn-inducing conclusion. Such bodies of inquiry tend to suffer from an oxymoronic emphasis, since the investigators run the risk of already having their conclusions ahead of time. In all of this, someone has to pay. Partiality is lost in the zeal of getting a conviction, or finding a cause.

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  1. A Commentator

    The bipartisan agreement is to be commended. China’s bullying response should not be.

    There is nothing wrong with seeking an inquiry into this dreadful health and economic tragedy. It’s time we charted an independent and principled course in our international relations.

    The entire economy is undergoing harsh restructuring, and this is the time to review our dependence on China for trade, and the US for defence.

  2. Brad Black

    ‘Commentator’, as the article stated France responded with diplomatic caution. Our government’s response? aggressive toadying designed more to give trump our country’s ingratiating support leading up to the US election. Like most of our government’s dealings this is NOT smart.
    And as for the restructuring, it would’ve come sooner or later anyway and if we were smart, should be used as a platform for dealing with the looming climate and other potential disasters as has been recently suggested by our military leaders.
    Following the donald is as stupid as the man himself!!

  3. Terence Mills

    Agreed there should be an enquiry at the appropriate time, probably headed by the WHO, into the origins of COVID19 and strategies to avoid a repeat.

    But now is not the time, we are still in the middle of a pandemic and Australia’s non-diplomatic sniping is not helpful and seems to have been taken up following Morrison’s chat with Trump – or was it Dutton’s Washington briefing from Ivanka.

    Trump is trying to paint COVID19 as a Chinese conspiracy to boost his re-election chances. We should not become a sock-puppet of the USA on this issue or anything else.

  4. Jack Cade

    I doubt very much that the USA really wants too
    much scrutiny into this virus. Believers in coincidences might not be bothered that the US athletes for the Military Games trained in a base adjacent to the CIA- germ warfare laboratory at Fort Detrick. It has been alleged that patient zero has not been identified, and the Chinese say the first dozen or so cases had no connection whatsoever with the ‘wet market’, but a black-listed US youtube identity called Webb has named a female US cyclist who attended the games as the real patient zero. I doubt that the Chinese or the US will be too keen to look too hard into it, despite Trumps bluster, especially as a Chinese scientist at Wuhan has been working on bio-weapon research at Detrick.
    Australia’s keenness to identify the origin of the virus would have more credibility if we were not seen to be America’s only friend, other than Israel. The other US ‘good buddy’, Japan, said they thought it originated in the US.
    Whoever started it – if anyone did – it’s out now. Let us hope it sees the end of germ warfare. It has been a spectacular own goal.

  5. Alex

    Hey Hu Xijin, I like you a lot. Great compliment “Australia is always there, making trouble. It is a bit like chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes.” I would have liked you more if you had said Australians ‘are a bit like a ‘double T’ penetrating our crappily made shoes and it’s ouch-time’, but your attempt at a derisive comment is pretty good nonetheless.

    You see, this is the problem, all Australians are not totally under the thumb, yet. There is still a little bit of resistance left over from white settlement and more than a little bit of resistance stirring the veins of the original inhabitants. I say that is a problem, but really, I was being sarcastic in saying that. In evolutionary terms having the ability to sort fact from fiction and still having some agency to respond, well, that really is a blessing. I doubt if you are even aware of what that means. I won’t bag out the average Chinese people, they have been under the thumb for so long I feel for them.

    On the theme of ‘an independent inquiry into the origins and ultimate transmission of COVID-19’, who is independent?

    I watched a video by US ex-military veteran Dr Rashid Buttar the other day before it was deleted by that great arbiter of independence, YouTube. 9 million views, then down it went. That should tell independent thinkers something, if you can’t win the argument, then crash the system. Yesterday Dr Buttar was interviewed by Brian Rose on London Real. I haven’t watched the full interview but it looks like he is still on message.
    Dr. Rashid Buttar: the Coronavirus agenda – what the mainstream media don’t want you to know –
    You can watch the Full Episode of Dr Rashid Buttar on London Real’s Digital Freedom Platform for FREE only at: https://londonreal.tv/digital-freedom-platform-interview-1-dr-rashid-buttar/

    In reference to the origin of the virus being a ‘wet market’, there are other possibilities including the one found in this research paper (withdrawn some days after publishing). Readers might find the genome sequence (Figure 2) interesting.
    “We then translated the aligned genome and found that these inserts are present in all Wuhan 2019-nCoV viruses except the 2019-nCoV virus of Bat as a host [Fig.S4]. Intrigued by the 4 highly conserved inserts unique to 2019-nCoV we wanted to understand their origin. For this purpose, we used the 2019-nCoV local alignment with each insert as query against all virus genomes and considered hits with 100% sequence coverage. Surprisingly, each of the four inserts aligned with short segments of the Human immunodeficiency Virus-1 (HIV-1) proteins.”

    Who knows what the truth is? I don’t but I will look around and not believe the first lump of codswallop served up by 60 Minutes.
    I encourage other readers to do the same.

  6. Phil Pryor

    Low level loudmouths (attention Commentator) might consider that no-one has ever sued a cyclone, cold, flu, flood or earthquake, so righteous raging is pointless. Second, low level thinkers might see that the USA is easily the leader in cases and deaths, so is the likely source. Logic? So, stop the nasty markets n China, and quite sensible too, shout the steak and hamburger gobblers, fully clothed and shod in Chinese gear, and with Chinese produced Apple and other products. Sense? Let us only sell iron ore, gas and coal to reliable semi-slave friends, e g, Nauru. Intelligent? Let us shout when we effing well feel like it, using Peter Duckwit -Futton to police our case and vent our considered legal options, He has a school cert. Clever? Let us revert to British Imperial standards, say, of C Rhodes, who thieved and murdered, but only “properly” and for good reasons (power? wealth?) What else might we do as a pure people?

  7. Matters Not

    Alex re Rashid Buttar. is known for his controversial use of chelation therapy for numerous conditions, including autism and cancer. Needless to say there’s more.

    degree in biology and theology, and then earned his degree in osteopathy at Des Moines University. According to his website, he worked as a surgeon with the U.S. Army for several years but did not achieve any medical qualification … and for his use of intravenous hydrogen peroxide to treat cancer … Buttar alleges that, in 2014, after development of dangerous Coronavirus strains was banned in the USA, Dr. Anthony Fauci, then head of NIAID, transferred funding of 3.7 million dollars to a private laboratory in Wuhan, China.

    What a source! Now about those bridges I have for sale. Going cheap. Indeed two for one. A Mug’s special.

  8. calculus witherspoon.

    Ye, the West IS becoming the shit under China’s shoes and that has been largely due to our own infantilism.

  9. calculus witherspoon.

    Shrewd comments from MN and others.

    We should remember much of this Sino-bashing comes from piqued folk who think you cure Corona virus by injecting yourself with disinfectant.

  10. Jack Cade

    The smoke and ash from the bushfires did a lot of damage in NZ and even caused some glacial melt in South America.
    Anybody want to agitate for a full and independent inquiry?
    I am not averse to an inquiry into the covid-19; I just object to Australia always carrying the US slops bucket.

  11. Phil

    There will be no investigation into Covid – 19 by anyone but China. The days of threatening China are over, The ‘ Chinese ‘ have a military that big and modern, most people can’t even imagine it . Although I thought maybe they could threaten China by filling their radio air waves with old speeches of John Howard from his days in parliament on an endless loop.That might send them all nuts.

    Or send Alexander Downer up there to lay down the law, showing those Chinese we aint a load of low rent Nancy boys. What a laugh it all is. I bet the Chinese government are sitting around watching Morrison jump up and down talking to himself at Hellsong in a language their spies can’t understand, pissing themselves laughing and thinking, we might send down some government officials to Sydney next week, to buy up some more of those nice units on the North shore for our holidays. Maybe get Sussan Ley the flying real estate agent,to check out the Gold Coast for us.The invasion can wait for a few more years we’ll wait until we own it all before we move in.

  12. Henry

    Strayla: the Drump’s Deputy Puke.

  13. Brozza

    I guess we won’t be seeing any more ‘foody’ programs about host’s traveling through various Asian food markets anymore, as they’ll all be tarred by the same western brush.

  14. A Commentator

    Rather than just lapsing into the criticism of Trump or Morrison, what is the actual principled argument against an inquiry into the origins of this health and economic catastrophe?

    I think it is commendable that it has bipartisan support.

  15. Phil

    ‘ Rather than just lapsing into the criticism of Trump or Morrison, what is the actual principled argument against an inquiry into the origins of this health and economic catastrophe? ‘

    Nothing. They have laid the blame at China’s door and demanded they more or less do as they are told.This is deflection writ large. China has a long memory of being pushed around by the west. Those days are over.

    As for the criticism of Trump and Morrison, in a more sane world they would be both sharing a prison cell together. Their corruption, malfeasance and gross negligence, is not up for debate. Sure the jury hasn’t sat yet, but some things are just crystal clear. Btw what bipartisan support are you referring too? Surely not Her Majesty’s Opposition. You jest. There is no opposition to the Morrison government.

  16. Matters Not

    A Commentator re:

    what is the actual principled argument against an inquiry

    Perhaps the starting point ought to be: – What is the actual principled argument for an inquiry?

    In similar vein – Word has it that China is canvassing support to send a fleet of ships and a team of scientists to investigate ‘bleaching’ of coral on the Great Barrier Reef, given Australia seems incapable of protecting a world heritage site. Then there’s the problem of (whatever) which Australia seems reluctant .. The list would be long.

    Sovereignty anyone?

  17. Jack Cade

    There is no sound argument against an investigation. I’d welcome one, if only to ensure that we know what to watch out for.
    My view is that I don’t trust the parties that are insisting on it. Australia is one of the least affected, despite the cruise ships (US-owned, by the way) being frequently in our waters, not necessarily for the measures that the governments took, although they have done quite well. But Trumps hysterical blaming of China smacks of ‘look over there’ stuff, and I feel that Australia is pushing Trump’s barrow.

  18. calculus witherspoon.

    Matter Not, you are in awesome form at the moment.

  19. Sean Crawley

    Is my memory correct? Didn’t the Prime Minister and other government ministers in the midst of the bush fire crisis argue vehemently that it was not the time to call for any investigation or questioning of the causes or responses to the fact that our country was burning out of control? Just saying.

  20. Matters Not

    Should make clear. Not saying a principle can’t be articulated – just that it hasn’t and besides it’s not the role of any coalition of the willing to lead same. A glance at the recent historical record will show why. We have a World Health Organisation (WHO) part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group which might have agency on this matter.

    Further, if a principle is established (and it’s sound), then it’s reasonable to assume it can (and will) be universalized and perhaps then acted upon. Thus those who are not making stringent efforts – such as preventing bush fires and abandoning fossil fuel extraction and the like – might have some future regrets. Unintended consequences and all that. Otherwise this ‘attack’ on Chinese sovereignty will be seen as Australia simply aiding and abetting the re-election of Trump. And I don’t recall any so called mandate for that.

    Best if we keep our metaphorical heads well below the parapet. And I’m sure farmers, business as well as service providers like Universities will agree.

  21. johno

    As MN has pointed out re Australia continued obfuscation on climate change the oz china rhetoric smacks of writ large hypocrisy. Go to Malcolm Roberts for Australia’s policy on Climate Change (big fat zero)

  22. Ken Fabian

    Expecting openness from China is like expecting openness from the Minister of Energy and Emissions (Reductions). Where did that travel expenses document come from? Simple question with a simple answer but no, not even the Federal Police could wring that out of Mr Taylor… although maybe if they actually asked?

    I don’t doubt China made serious mistakes of underestimation and procrastination but so did other nations including Australia. It looks a lot like an exercise in blameshifting and scapegoating – which, after all, has been the LNP’s greatest strength and used in coordination with the biggest foreign political campaign organisation, NewsCorp, is like a superpower; it has gotten them so many gains (or prevented so many losses) that falling back on it was inevitable.

  23. A Commentator

    I’m not entirely sure why there is a need to relate this immediate social, health and economic catastrophe to climate change, but there is the IPCC. An internationally recognised and broadly supported organisation.

    I’m unable to quite understand why some form of independent inquiry into this catastrophe/tragedy is related to climate change.

    (look over there?)

  24. Alex

    Plandemic diplomacy, I thought that was Twiggy Forester’s new jig, an overt example of a corporate hack making gov irrelevant. NWO. Just like Bill Gates, Twiggy can see the writing on the wall – there’s gold in being a sales rep for Big Pharma.
    MN, fair enough, you didn’t like the Dr Buttar video, mabye you’ll like this one, it might encourage critical thinking:

  25. Michael Taylor

    I do believe you are correct, Sean.

    But the rules were different then. This government is famous for moving goalposts.

  26. Arthur Tarry

    The ‘mouse that roared’ and a shallow echo, again, at the behest of the bumbling Govt of the USA. When will Australia develop its own coherent foreign policy and ditch this cringing dependence of ‘our protector’, be it the USA or some other hegemony. Research into the origin of Covid 19 is, undoubtedly, already underway in China and any results will certainly become available as the Chinese don’t want it back either. We progressives have been aching for a more realistic foreign policy setting in Australia for a long time, one that recognizes the real interests of the nation and our geographical reality. The old notion of the tyranny of distance is an old-hat concept that totally fails to recognise that we are very near the epicentre of the human population of the Earth. Europe or Nth America are not the only centres of gravitas, culture and business in the world; we have all of that in our region, just waiting for our awakening and participation. These conservatives are a cringe worthy bunch, so predictable and lacking in thought, and foresight. I’m very surprised that the opposition opted to meekly follow these fools.

  27. Roland Flickett

    When the virus broke out in Wuhan, the Chinese quite quickly – but not quickly enough – closed the entire city down. So how did the virus infect so many cruise liners? Are we to believe that ALL the worlds problems cane from the people who left Wuhan in the few weeks before it was locked down and climbed aboard cruisers? It’s certainly possible.
    I am convinced that the Western ‘democracies’ were uninterested in the beginning. As far as the two worst affected countries, the UK and the USA are concerned, they perceived that it was knocking off old people; it was only when Trump’s family, and Boris Johnson became infected that they addressed it seriously.
    The people of the US allowed the Republicans to geld the Obama health initiatives, and the UK watched both Labor (nowadays no further left than the US Democrats) and Conservative governments destroying the NHS by stealth. Plus, of course, a very large number of health workers were immigrants who deduced they they were no longer welcome in brexiting UK, and returned whence they came.
    One of the first doctors who studied and worked with the first Ebola breakouts said that sooner or later a virus would come along that was as virulent as Ebola and as portable as influenza. It looks as if we are not there yet, but we are well on the way.

  28. Phil

    Roland Flickett.

    Yep all true. We are the ‘ Mushroom Society ‘ Kept in the dark and fed on Bullshit. There is more to this virus than they are telling us. It can not be forgotten, the US and British governments have experimented with various agents and viruses on their own people in the past. Is this some Frankenstein experiment that got out of hand? What ever it is they have done or not done, one things for sure, we will be the last to know. But what ever caused it I agree, they that’s the real owners of western governments, were going to let this virus go through the old, the poor, the sick and the lame until they realised it was killing them. These slimy right wing cretins give a flying fluck about us and never did.

  29. Potato

    The ‘Commentator’: What a pathetic impersonation of imbecility.

  30. Matters Not

    Anyone really interested in the ins and outs of this issue should read this article. Lots of forces in play.

    JOHN DWYER. Trump, Xi and the WHO.

  31. Roland Flickett


    That’s a good article, and should be more widely read.
    The point people miss is that even if the covid-19 was not manufactured in a laboratory, it was not for want of trying. Wunan, Fort Detrick, Porton Down et al; you get the impression that they would have if they could have. A truly sane world would destroy all germ warfare labs. Mustard gas, ricin, anthrax, smallpox – all have been used, with one end in mind.

  32. Mrs Wobbly

    This article should be read by a broader Australian audience. The Australia Extreme Far Right Government only interest Into IT’S corona virus INQUIRE is how much MONEY they think could be claimed back in compensation by laying the blame at China’s feet, CAN we trust what they say to be true? NO ! The agenda is not to the eradication of the virus nor help control the virus or the health of people our country, or the people of the world. It’s profit, off back of misery and pain And death of the people and then remove their rights as citizens in a democracy, like Australia once was now run by lying Fascists.

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