China leaks dossier of 14 disputes with Australia as tensions increase

China leaks dossier of 14 disputes with Australia as tensions increase

China views the military pact between Australia and Japan as “dangerous”. Photo / AP

By: Rohan Smith and Samantha Maiden

In August, China’s Deputy Head of Mission Wang Xining made an extraordinary speech at Canberra’s National Press Club outlining how Australia had wronged his country.

It was a pointed attack at Australia over its decision to back an independent inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic – a decision the diplomat compared with the treacherous assassination of Roman emperor Julius Caesar.

The rift over where coronavirus originated has dominated the relationship between the two previously strong allies. But it is far from the only reason China is “angry” at Australia.

A deliberately leaked document delivered by the Chinese embassy in Canberra to The Age newspaper reveals 14 disputes that are “poisoning bilateral relations”.

A new military pact between Australia and Japan has also ruffled feathers in Beijing, where Chinese state media described the move as “dangerous”.

“We suggest Japan and Australia exercise restraint on the way to form a quasi military alliance against China,” a Global Times editorial read on Tuesday night.

“They will surely pay a corresponding price if China’s national interests are infringed upon and its security is threatened.”

The Global Times condemned both nations for “recklessly” taking the first step to conduct deep defence co-operation that targets a third party, and accused them of shifting the responsibilities of safeguarding regional unity to China.

“This is not only unfair, but also very dangerous,” it wrote.

In August, the Chinese diplomat who fronted the Press Club said Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to back the inquiry into the origins of the virus had “hurt the feelings” of Chinese people.

“All of a sudden, they heard there was this shocking proposal coming from Australia, which is supposed to be a good friend of China,” Wang said.

“If you are able read Chinese blogs, websites and even the comments of the blog of your Embassy in Beijing, you will be able to note the intensity of emotion of our people, how much indignation, anger and frustration they expressed, they used a lot of Chinese idioms and sayings to describe the emotion, but it is difficult to translate.

“I think it is approximately identical to Julius Caesar, in his final day when he saw Brutus approaching him: Et Tu Brute.”

The quote comes from Shakespeare, where Julius Caesar is assassinated and recognises his friend, Marcus Brutus, among the group of killers.

Earlier in the address, Wang insisted Covid-19 could have originated in “two or three other places”.

“Yes, I think it is up to the scientists to find out the origin, and also how it has been dealt with by different governments,” he said.

“I would like to call your attention to what has been said by Dr Michael Ryan. He is the executive director of WHO health emergency programme, he said recently that patient zero is not necessarily found among the first cluster of coronavirus cases.”

The fallout has been felt at more than a diplomatic level. A week ago, China said it was still “offended” by Australia’s comments and is taking steps to make those feelings clear.

The Victorian timber industry felt China’s force when it suddenly blocked exports last week.

The official reason relayed to Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment was that several recent shipments contained bark beetles – a pest that feeds on the inner layers of trees.

The timber industry joins wine, coal, barley, copper ore, sugar and seafood industries on the banned list by China Customs.

But the story being told in China’s state media has holes in it, according to Dr Pradeep Taneja, who lectures at the University of Melbourne on Chinese politics and international relations.

“It’s hard to believe that suddenly over the last six months or so that there are so many problems with Australian exports to China,” Pradeep told the ABC.

“It’s hard to believe. There may be, I’m not denying there could be problems. But those problems could be resolved fairly easily if the two countries were talking to each other.”

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