China’s Wolf Warriors Demand Australia Curtail Civil Society

Amid steadily escalating tensions between Canberra and Beijing, a searing document charging Australia with “spearheading the crusade against China” has been intentionally leaked by Chinese authorities. The document, which outlines “14 disputes” Beijing has with Canberra, was reportedly given to Australian press by the Chinese embassy. At The Sydney Morning Herald Jonathan Kearsley, Eryk Bagshaw, and Anthony Galloway describe the document and follow up comments from Beijing, noting their potential to further damage the deteriorating bilateral relationship:

The government document goes further than any public statements made by the Chinese Communist Party, accusing the Morrison government of attempting “to torpedo” Victoria’s Belt and Road deal, and blaming Canberra for “unfriendly or antagonistic” reports on China by independent Australian media.

“China is angry. If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy,” a Chinese government official said in a briefing with a reporter in Canberra on Tuesday.

[…] The list of grievances also includes: government funding for “anti-China” research at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, raids on Chinese journalists and academic visa cancellations, “spearheading a crusade” in multilateral forums on China’s affairs in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, calling for an independent investigation into the origins of , banning Huawei from the 5G network in 2018, and blocking 10 Chinese foreign investment deals across infrastructure, agriculture and animal husbandry sectors.

In a targeted threat to Australia’s foreign policy position, the Chinese official said if Australia backed away from policies on the list, it “would be conducive to a better atmosphere”. [Source]

This comes after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in April called for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19, accelerating a downward spiral of Australian-Sino relations that began in part with Australia’s 2018 decision to ban Huawei from building its 5G network. Since the April call for the inquiry, tensions have grown steadily worse following Chinese embargoes on Australian products, journalists forced to flee China after an Australian CGTN anchor’s disappearance, and a conservative senator’s “McCarthyist” inquisition into the loyalties of ethnically-Chinese Australians.

[…]

 

Trade is a recurring issue in both the leaked list and other official Chinese statements. Despite Australia on November 15 joining other Asia-Pacific countries in signing the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)—a move which China’s Vice-Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen claimed “sends a strong signal against unilateralism and protectionism, [and] strongly supports free trade”—the two nations have been at loggerheads on trade issues for all of 2020. China has targeted the coal, barley, and cotton industries, and Australian winemakers fear that an unofficial Chinese embargo on importing Australian wine could effectively neuter the $1.26 billion export industry. Beijing’s list of issues with Australia seem to stem mostly from Morrison’s call for an investigation into COVID-19’s origins.

 

On November 17, two days after both countries signed the RCEP, Japan and Australia signed a bilateral defense pact that would see their troops undergo training in each other’s territories. The product of six years of negotiation, and Prime Minister Morrison said the pact was not aimed at China, but instead at “add[ing] to the stability of the region, which is a good thing.”

After news of the pact broke, “wolf warrior diplomat” and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Zhao Lijian delivered a bombastic press conference, in which he accused Australia of adhering to “a Cold War mentality” and harboring “ideological prejudice.” Bloomberg News has compiled a list of the accusations from Zhao at the press conference:

Zhao also reeled off a list of ways in which the Australian government or its people had damaged relations with Beijing:

  • Australia, in violation of basic norms governing international relations, “has repeatedly made mistakes on issues involving Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan and other issues relating to China’s core interests. It repeatedly initiated or participated in joint actions against China on occasions like the Human Rights Council on issues like Xinjiang and interfered in Hong Kong’s national security legislation and endorsed Taiwan’s attempts to seek a seat at the World Health Assembly.”
  • Despite a lack of evidence, some in Australia “slandered and accused China of engaging in so-called intervention and infiltration activities” in the country. They “politicized and stigmatized normal exchanges between China and Australia without justification.”
  • Australia engaged in “political manipulation” on Covid-19 and “promoted the so-called independent investigation and interfered in international cooperation.”
  • Canberra was the first to ban Chinese companies from participating in its 5G network, “repeatedly rejected Chinese companies seeking to invest in Australia under the excuse of national security,” and conducted arbitrary searches of Chinese reporters in Australia. [Source]

While mostly mirroring the issues iterated by Zhao the day prior, the list leaked to the press went a step further to target Australian civil society by making the Australian Strategic Policy Institute a focus of particular ire. Abhijnan Rej at The Diplomat notes how this reveals Beijing’s view of Australian as a threat:

What is interesting about the dossier the Chinese government presented is how it unintentionally reveals Beijing’s insecurities and anxieties.

In particular, China has taken umbrage at the increasingly probing research of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a Canberra-based think tank, around the country’s treatment of ethnic minorities and its covert activities abroad. As I have noted in these pages before, Australian civil society, including the media, has taken a frontline role in highlighting the Chinese Communist Party’s malign behavior both at home and abroad. Therefore, another of the charges against Australia the dossier lays out is “unfriendly or antagonistic report[s] on China by media, poisoning the atmosphere of bilateral relations” is unsurprising. [Source]

Beijing has railed against a series of 2020 ASPI reports on China’s nationwide DNA collection program, construction of internment camps and destruction of Uyghur cultural sites, the CCP’s foreign interference through the United Front Work Department, and COVID-19-related global disinformation and propaganda campaigns. Chinese state-media has called ASPI part of Australia’s “deep state” and accused it of “doctoring objective research.” The list further accused Australian media in general of biased reporting on China. At The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Stephen Dziedzic detailed the official Australian response to Beijing’s demands:

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Government made decisions in the national interest.

“We are a liberal democratic society with a free media and a parliamentary democracy, where elected members and media are entitled to freely express their views,” the spokesperson said.

“The Australian Government is always ready to talk directly in a constructive fashion about Australia’s relationship with China, including about our differences, and to do so directly between our political leaders. [Source]

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