Australia Won’t ‘Succumb to Threats’ From an Anxious China

By Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson is a reporter based in Australia. Contact him on
April 29, 2020Updated: October 25, 2020

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton remain unmoved as Chinese diplomats abandoned diplomatic decorum because of Australia’s unapologetic push for an international inquiry into the origin and handling of the CCP virus outbreak in Wuhan.

“Australia will continue to pursue what is a very reasonable and sensible course of action. This is a virus that has taken more than 200,000 lives across the world. It has shut down the global economy,” Morrison told reporters on April 29. “We don’t lightly form the views that we do on these things. We hold the position that we have.”

While in an interview on 5AA Radio the same day, Dutton said, “Of course we are not going to be deviating off course from dealing with a very serious issue. We aren’t going to be held to ransom or succumb to threats from anybody.”

The comments came after the Chinese embassy in Canberra leaked its version of an April 28 conversation between high-level Australian diplomat Frances Adamson and China’s Ambassador Cheng Jingye.

In addition to the inquiry, Australia has been seeking international support for reform of the World Health Organisation in order to prevent any future repeat of actions that contributed to the Wuhan outbreak becoming a global pandemic. This includes the United Nations organisation’s dissemination of the catastrophically incorrect information that the virus was not transmissible from human-to-human.

Hours after the Chinese embassy’s leak to Australian media, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) released a statement expressing regret for the embassy’s choice to breach “long-standing” diplomatic practises. It said for its part, DFAT would continue to act “according to the highest standards of professionalism, courtesy, and respect.”

The following morning on April 29, the embassy released a response that accused Australian officials of leaking information and the contents of the phone call to the media.

The embassy said that China doesn’t “play petty tricks,” but then went on to contradict this statement by saying, “But if others do, we have to reciprocate.”

The Chinese regime has increasingly been vocal in its complaints about Australian public officials and media who speak and report about the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.

Tensions escalated this week after Cheng told the Australian Financial Review in an April 26 interview that the “Chinese public” may boycott Australian products and universities if it probes the virus’ origins. This has been seen as a threat by many in Australia.

“I think some of the comments are very much out of line and regrettable,” the home affairs minister told 5AA Radio.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said China’s latest criticisms of Australia are ludicrous.

“It’s prudent and sensible for there to be an independent and transparent investigation to the origins of this global pandemic,” he told Sky News on April 28.

“We won’t bow to economic coercion, we will continue to talk up in Australia’s national interest, and we won’t trade off health outcomes for economic outcomes.”

Former Labor minister Stephen Conroy told Sky News that the embassy’s leak of “some edited comments” from a conversation with the Secretary of DFAT was to their own advantage and “demonstrates they’re not interested in returning to the status quo.” He said the CCP “want to bend Australia to its will.”

Conroy said Australia sent a strong message that it would not be “bullied.”

The Stakes for China

Michael Shoebridge, director of the Defence and National Security Strategy and Policy program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said China’s actions are anxiety “masquerading as strength.”

“The stakes are high for the Chinese government not just internationally but domestically, because a credible international inquiry into the pandemic and events and actions within China at the start will undercut Beijing’s rewriting of history that is trying to tell us the Party is triumphant over COVID,” he told The Epoch Times via email on April 29.

China’s Australian embassy is acting no differently to other ones around the world. Shoebridge said several ambassadors have been called in by their hosting governments over similar “aggressive behaviour.”

“This behaviour by Ambassador Cheng and the Chinese Embassy shows the enormous pressure that Beijing is under because of their failure to be transparent about the beginning of the pandemic in Wuhan and the Chinese authorities’ roles in the early part of what is now a global public health and economic crisis,” Shoebridge said.

China’s Economic Threats

A successful trade relationship with China will depend on its respecting Australia’s sovereignty and independence, Morrison told reporters.

Morrison believes Australia and China can maintain its strategic partnership, even as the virus origins are investigated.

He also doesn’t appear to be afraid of China’s threat of economic consequences.

“Australia will find markets, as we have now for a long time, all around the world,” he said.

“The predominance of our trade relationship with China is obviously resources based, and I see no reason why that would alter in the future. The thing about our relationship with China is it’s a mutually beneficial one.”

Call to Reset China Relations

Crossbench senator Rex Patrick said in a press release on April 29 that Australia’s relations with China needed a reset following Cheng’s threat of a Chinese boycott.

“The Ambassador revealed China’s true diplomatic face and confirmed concerns about China’s preference for control and coercion rather than partnership,” said Patrick.

“Australia is at a strategic, diplomatic, and economic turning point in our relations with China,” he said.

Patrick will try for a sixth-time to establishing a parliamentary inquiry into relations with communist China when Parliament sits next month.