Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest took Health Minister Greg Hunt by surprise when he unexpectedly invited a Chinese diplomat to speak at their press event on April 29.
Hunt and Forrest were there to announce that 10 million virus testing kits as well as pathology equipment, had been acquired by Forrest’s charity, the Minderoo Foundation, from the China-based BGI Group.
Hunt and Forrest spoke first, and afterwards Forrest invited the Chinese consul-general of Victoria, Zhou Long to speak. Claims differ on when Forrest notified Hunt that Zhou would speak. However, it’s believed he wasn’t aware until the press conference was about to begin.
Social media users were critical of Forrest.
Journalist Gareth Parker wrote on Twitter, “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 @RogerCookMLA without WA Govt’s knowledge.”
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
SkyNews Canberra Bureau Chief Thomas O’Brien wrote, “It appears Health Min. Hunt did not have a whole lot of notice that China Consul General Zhou Long would be at his Joint Presser with Andrew Forrest. Hunt made it clear Twiggy would have to be the one to introduce the Vic Consul General, and that he wasn’t allowed to take Qs.”
It appears Health Min. Hunt did not have a whole lot of notice that China Consul General Zhou Long would be at his Joint Presser with Andrew Forrest.
Hunt made it clear Twiggy would have to be the one to introduce the Vic Consul General, and that he wasn’t allowed to take Qs.
— Thomas O’Brien (@TJ__OBrien) April 29, 2020
The episode is another amid a week of growing tensions between Australia and China, which began on April 26 when Ambassador Cheng Jingye said there might be a Chinese “boycott” of Australian products and universities if Australia continues to pursue an investigation into the origin of the CCP virus outbreak.
Forrest is the majority shareholder of Fortescue Metals Group, a major mining corporation in Australia with significant exports to mainland China. It recently opened a Shanghai office.
In his speech, Hunt emphasised that 500,000 tests had already been conducted in Australia, with a high degree of accuracy by global standards.
Further, 2.8 million Australians had already downloaded the “COVID Safe” contact tracing app.
Forrest expressed thanks to the BGI Group for “withstanding the shocks and withstanding the threats to our supply chains.”
When asked about the prime minister’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the virus, Forrest pivoted to instead speak about “the huge depth of the relationship which exists between the business community on both sides and the trust and friendship.”
Forrest had earlier in the day suggested to ABC that an investigation should be delayed and not focused on China.
The prime minister said on April 29 that he did not think Australia and China’s economic relationship would be affected by the tensions of the past week.
“The predominance of our trading relationship with China is obviously resources based, and I see no reason why that would alter in the future. I mean, the thing about our relationship with China is it is a mutually beneficial one,” he said.