Features Australia

China cries wolf diplomacy

Sovereignty up for sale?

28 November 2020

9:00 AM

28 November 2020

9:00 AM

Like KoKo in The Mikado, or Kat Stratford in the rom-com based on The Taming of the Shrew, Beijing has a little list, or rather a big list. It’s a diplomatic version of 10 things it hates about Australia, which was already up to 14 when an embassy official handed it to journalists last week to share with the world, and the peeves keep piling up.

It’s all our fault says Geoff Raby, a former Australian ambassador to China and advisor to Labor PM Bob Hawke. He is now a registered agent of foreign influence for a Chinese state-owned coal miner, so as Mandy Rice Davies might put it, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Raby is more of a Wolf Cub of the Boy Scout variety than a Chinese wolf warrior diplomat but he howls to the same tune.

It’s our inability to ‘chew diplomatic gum and walk at the same time’ that has left us on the outer, even amongst a host of nations having trouble with China, he claims. It’s a metaphor that would please the editor of China’s Global Times who memorably said in April that Australia was ‘a bit like chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes.’

Is Australia really doing worse managing Beijing’s burgeoning bellicosity? China and India have been firing shots along their border for the first time in 45 years; Japan has been accused of making ‘a perilous gamble’ by coordinating with the US, relations with Canada are ‘frosty’.

Things China hates about Australia start with blocking Chinese investment and banning Huawei from the 5G network, which takes chutzpah considering the iron grip China keeps on its telecommunications system, and investing in the Middle Kingdom comes with dubious extras like intellectual property theft, forced Chinese partners and an opaque, capricious and potentially lethal legal system. China is incensed at federal legislation scrutinising Victoria’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative, as if Beijing hadn’t just torn up the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration which was meant to guarantee a 50-year commitment in Hong Kong to ‘One Country – Two Systems’.

Just mentioning Hong Kong counts as an example of our ‘incessant wanton inference’ but Great Britain has also been warned that it cannot be ‘Great’ unless it improves its attitude to its former colony. To be fair, Hong Kongers are the first to admit that China has nothing against democracy in Hong Kong, as long as China can decide who wins the election.

China was apoplectic when Australia joined with the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence network — the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand — in calling for China to reinstate expelled members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. A spokesman said China would never flinch when trouble comes its way, no matter how many eyes they had — five, ten, whatever! If anyone dared to undermine its sovereignty, security and development interests, they should be careful not to get poked in the eye. But what’s a little eye poking amongst friends? China was mystified when its log of complaints was reported as a threat in the Australian media, which it says is ‘unfriendly or antagonistic,’ as opposed to the mellifluous tone adopted by the Global Times.

China is cross about the ‘outrageous condemnation’ of the Chinese Communist Party by Australian politicians and a joint US-Australian statement which expressed ‘deep concern’ over China’s claims in the South China Sea. It must miss former Labor senator Sam Dastyari who cooed in 2017 that China’s borders were China’s business and the role of Australia was to know when it was or wasn’t our place to be involved.

Still there’s always NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane, a fan of Chairman Xi who wrote an article saying ‘the dregs of White Australianism from the past… are resurfacing to bring about a resurgence of the Yellow Peril mythology.’ Dawn raids by Australian security officials on four Chinese journalists in June, which were linked to an investigation as to whether Chinese agents were covertly influencing Moselmane were also on Beijing’s list. In truth, Moselmane is quite capable of coming up with such gems on his own; in 2013 he compared those fighting Israel in Lebanon to the Resistance fighting the Nazis.

China is generally outraged at Australia’s foreign interference legislation, which it says stigmatises ‘the normal operations’ of China’s diplomatic missions such as coordinating the United Front Work Department to stockpile face masks or rallying the diaspora to criticise an ABC rerun of a BBC kid’s comedy because a Tang Dynasty Empress was played by a ‘white actress’ and eats cockroaches. The episode was decried as spreading ‘institutionalised racism’.Never mind the Tang Dynasty, last year the South China Morning Post ran a video story about a Chinese cockroach farmer which showed him scoffing the critters and their faeces live and deep fried, which he described as ‘fragrant and crispy’.

China is particularly piqued about Australia’s call for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. It currently claims the pandemic started in Italy yet last week, scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology quietly admitted they collected and brought to Wuhan the closest virus relative of Sars-Cov-2 and eight other Sars-like viruses that they found in a mine shaft in Yunnan, where six miners had been infected with a ‘mystery’ virus and three died. This was reported in these pages months ago as scientific sleuths uncovered these facts which have been smeared as a conspiracy theory because they suggest one of the viruses might have have been, or became, Sars-Cov-2 and then leaked from the lab.

Having shared its grounds for divorce with the world, China said Australia, like an errant wife, had been provocative and confrontational and demanded it correct its mistakes. The PM responded that Australians would always be ourselves and channelling his inner John Howard declared, ‘We will set our own laws and our own rules according to our national interest, not at the behest of any other nation.’ Right on cue, the US National Security Council tweeted that nations around the world had Australia’s back and mocked Beijing’s bullying ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy with a YouTube clip of two adorable wolves lounging on their sides in a wooded sanctuary and howling hilariously. It was titled ‘The Funniest Wolf Howls Are Lazy Ones.’

It could have turned turned ugly, but as in the playground, China decided to accept the praise that the PM had offered for China’s impressive poverty alleviation and its state media all made conciliatory noises for the first time since April, except, unsurprisingly, the Global Times.

In 2014, Raby nonchalantly predicted that investors from China would one day ‘probably own all the property around Sydney Harbour’ but that Australians wouldn’t mind because we’d be better off. No doubt he will be, but the PM and the G-G both live on the shores of Kirribilli and at least under the incumbents our sovereignty won’t be up for sale.

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