Media mogul Kerry Stokes is the second Australian billionaire with significant business interests in China to call on the Australian government to backdown on criticism of the Chinese regime amid the CCP virus pandemic.
On April 30, Stokes used the West Australian newspaper, owned by his Seven West Media company, to echo the Chinese ambassador’s warning to Australia about the economic consequences of the prime minister pushing for an investigation into the origin and mishandling of the outbreak of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.
In an exclusive interview with his newspaper, Stokes admitted that the CCP “probably owes the world an explanation” but warned Prime Minister Scott Morrison to “stop making accusations.”
He said Morrison should “mend relations with China” and “quell” Beijing’s anger to avoid “catastrophic consequences” for the economy.
Stokes is the second billionaire this week to publicly take a pro-CCP foreign relations position, angering members of Parliament.
This comes at a time when Australia’s political leadership is united across multiple party lines in support of an inquiry into the CCP virus outbreak.
Stokes’s comments came after his fellow Western Australian billionaire, mining magnate Andrew Forrest, faced criticism from several MPs for breaking etiquette and inviting a representative of the CCP, China’s Consul General in Melbourne, to speak at a ministerial press conference on April 29.
The Minister for Health Greg Hunt announced that 10 million virus testing kits had been procured on behalf of the government by Forrest’s Mindaroo Foundation.
Liberal MP Tim Wilson accused Forrest of disloyalty to Australia.
“In a diplomatic disagreement, it’s a pretty basic expectation for Australians to be loyal and back their own, not invite a platform for a foreign spokesperson,” he said.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told 2GB Radio on April 30 that he was “disappointed” by Forrest’s actions.
“I think it just overshadows a bit the great work the Forrests have done,” Dutton said.
Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie (WA) said that Forrest, whose Fortescue Metals Group sells almost all of its iron ore to China, was playing “games.”
Hastie wrote on Facebook: “This guy drops out of the sky in his private jet and enables the Chinese Communist Party to ambush a Commonwealth press conference. Yeah, we’re not happy. Now is not the time for games. Australia must come first.”
Forrest defended the diplomat’s attendance, saying his actions were “a gesture of appreciation and friendship between our two great countries.”
Following the backlash, Forrest has since played down his actions, telling Nine’s Today on April 30: “This is the biggest non-story ever.”
On May 1, friend of Forrest and radio host Alan Jones asked Morrison about the incident.
“The Consul was not invited by the Commonwealth to that press conference,” Morrison said. “Let’s be clear about that. And look, and when it comes to the origin of this virus, which has taken the lives of over 200,000 people around the world at least—and it’s probably many more times that—I mean, I don’t think anybody’s in any fantasy land about where it started. It started in China.”
It is not the first time that Forrest has invited a representative of the CCP to speak at a press conference without notice.
Perth broadcaster Gareth Parker said on Twitter on April 29, “This was the same trick Andrew Forrest pulled when announcing he’d secured medical supplies for WA. He invited Chinese consul Madam Dong to joint presser w/Health Minister Roger Cook without WA Govt’s knowledge,” Parker said.
As I reported on @6PR Mornings earlier this month, this was the same trick Andrew Forrest pulled when announcing he’d secured medical supplies for WA.
— Gareth Parker (@G_Parker) April 29, 2020
Protecting Australia’s Sovereignty
The question of Australian sovereignty has been coming into focus amid the CCP virus pandemic. The prime minister said on April 29 that the road to Australia’s economic recovery will include increasing its sovereign capabilities.
Hastie has been vocal about his concerns for Australia’s national sovereignty. He recently launched a petition for Australia to push back against CCP interference.
“Although few will admit it, the Chinese Communist Party seeks to reshape the global order and Australia’s position in it through foreign interference, ownership of strategic assets and influence operations,” the petition says.
It aims to ensure Australia is in a strong position to guarantee its security, prosperity, and ability to manufacture essential goods.
As of May 1, Hastie’s petition “Take action on Australian sovereignty” has reached just over half its 10,000 signature target.