19 Nov 2020

Australian officials respond angrily to fresh attacks from Chinese diplomats

10:38 am on 19 November 2020

Australian officials have responded angrily after a Chinese diplomat in Canberra launched a fresh attack on the federal government, reeling off a long list of grievances and perceived slights.

China and Australia flags.

Photo: 123rf

Late Tuesday, Nine Newspapers reported that an anonymous Chinese official had provided it with a document laying out more than a dozen complaints against Australia.

Many of the allegations have been previously made by Chinese officials in recent months.

The document says Australia has unfairly blocked Chinese investment, spread "disinformation" about China's efforts to contain coronavirus, falsely accused Beijing of cyber-attacks, and engaged in "incessant wanton interference" in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang.

It also lambasts the federal government's decision to ban Huawei from 5G networks and criticises Australia's push against foreign interference, accusing it of "recklessly" seizing the property of Chinese journalists and allowing federal MPs to issue "outrageous condemnation of the governing party of China".

The relationship between China and Australia has nose-dived this year.

Beijing has hit several Australian exports with sanctions and has made thinly-veiled warnings that more products will be targeted.

On Tuesday, China also responded angrily to a new defence pact between Australia and Japan.

But Australia is increasingly concerned by incessant cyber-attacks emanating from China, as well as what it believes are persistent attempts by the Chinese government to interfere in domestic Australian politics.

The Chinese Embassy's decision to hand the list to the media seems designed to ratchet up the pressure on Australia to make concessions on key issues.

Nine Newspapers reported that the Chinese embassy official said Australia might be able to repair its relationship with China if it changed some of its listed positions.

But the list drew a contemptuous response from some Australian officials. One told the ABC that it was a "very familiar recitation of grievances and false statements."

Decisions made in the national interest

The federal government believes the complaints are unreasonable and misrepresent Australia's position.

It also believes that the list shows Australia has done nothing to deliberately inflame ties with Beijing but has simply stood by its principles and sovereignty.

The government maintains there are sound national security reasons for blocking Huawei and stopping some investments from the mainland.

It believes Australia's push for an independent inquiry into the Covid-19 outbreak was justified, and it has every right to publicly state its concerns about human rights abuses in China.

The head of the National Security College, Rory Medcalf, said on Twitter that the latest tactic deployed by the Chinese government was "unfortunate" and ineffective.

"Face matters in this country too."

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.

"Such direct dialogue enables misrepresentation of Australia's positions to be addressed in a constructive manner that enables our mutually beneficial relationship."

Meanwhile Chinese state media is continuing to berate Australia.

Earlier this month the China Daily warned Australia would "pay tremendously for its misjudgement".

Yesterday Xinhua also joined the chorus, warning Australia that its "ideological prejudice" was "poisoning relations between China and Australia."

"For these China-bashers it is imperative to reflect on their words and deeds that have caused setback in the bilateral ties," it said.