China and Australia quarrel over calls for independent inquiry from COVID-19 · Global Voices | Instant News

Australian Minister of Trade, Tourism & Investment Simon Birmingham celebrates Australia-China relations, Beijing August 2019 – Courtesy of the Flickr DFAT account (CC BY 2.0)

The Australian Government has triggered a big clash with Beijing by questioning the origins of COVID-19 – Prime Minister Scott Morrison and several members of his senior cabinet openly called for an independent investigation into coronavirus.

Although it has been seen by some as an undercover attack on China, there is a lot of support under it. Morrison has ask for Australian allies to reform the World Health Organization and conduct investigations into coronavirus sources.

Australia is already facing a bleak future in its economic relations with China as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The closure of the trip in early March was the initial cause of tension between countries. Lack of Australian government support for temporary visa holders like international student and graduate has threatened the university sector.

Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye response fast. He suggested that Chinese consumers and international students boycott Australian goods and services – especially the trade, tourism and education sectors, which have been crucial to Australia’s prosperity in recent decades.

Political and diplomatic clashes followed, with the Chinese embassy releasing accusations conversation details with Frances Adamson, head of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). This release is controversial for two reasons. It was intended to show that the Australian government was backing down. It also violates customary diplomatic protocols.

The Chinese Embassy claims that:

He also acknowledged this was not the time to start the review now and Australia did not have the details of the proposal. He further said that Australia did not want this problem to have an impact on Australia-China relations.

DFAT does not confirm or reject claims:

The Department will not respond by itself violating old diplomatic greetings and professional practices that will continue to be followed.

This Tweet is a typical reaction:

China Global Times state media editor Hu Xijin added fuel for the controversy on the Chinese social media platform Weibo:

Australia is always there, making trouble. It’s like gum sticking to the soles of Chinese shoes. Sometimes you have to find stones to rub.

This brought angry responses from many Australians online:

This Tweet is light compared to some social media posts that feature open racism and synophobia [fear or dislike of China]. This Twitter search continued covers the period immediately after Hu Xijin’s comments were published.

Instead, others question the benefits of Australia’s close relations with the United States government:

Retired Australian diplomat Bruce Haig calling for diplomacy rather than loud pounding from Australian politicians:

In terms of our relations with China and America, ships must be balanced if Australia wants to cross uncharted and rough waters ahead.

In ConversationTony Walker believes that Australia excessive economic dependence about China needs to be reassessed to give itself a number of choices to avoid political blackmail:

… it gives the Chinese what Australian policy makers should recognize as an unacceptable level of influence, even grip, in times of stress.

… It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Chinese Australia’s policy is in the hands of amateurs, or ideologists, or both.

Some of the issues debated between the two countries are summarized in the story of Global Voices at the end of 2019. However, recent research at Australian National University questions whether this contention has lasting economic consequences:

Meanwhile, there are some comments by Chinese citizens about Weibo. Some, including Tong Da Huan, support independent investigations:

病毒 起源 是 科学 问题。 追踪 源头 , 利于 切断 传播 途径 , 为 后来 积累 经验。 是 是 是 是 是 是 是 是 是 美国 吗 吗 吗 ???? 定 定

The origin of viruses is a scientific question. Tracking the origin can help block future outbreaks and inform the science sector about how to combat new viruses. They say that the virus originated in the US too? We have to do an investigation to fix everything.

There are a few taunts in reply to Tong’s post:

人家 要 调查 你 有 有 有 出轨 , 你 愿意 接受 调查 吗?

If someone else wants to investigate whether your wife is having an affair, will you accept it?

There are also some comments that reflect the position of the Chinese government, as referred to in 2019-20 forest fire disaster in Australia:

你们 国家 是 什么 什么 调查 调查 调查 国 国 可 可 可 可 可 可 可 可 境 境 境 境 境 境 境 境 境 境 境 境 可 境 可 可 可 可 可 可 可 可 可 可 可 可 可 境 境 境可 病毒 对 你们 索赔?

Your country is not in a position to investigate the origin of the virus in China. If you are allowed to investigate, China must investigate fires in Australia and ask for compensation for negligence leading to global environmental disasters. [Global warming] can cause the release of an ancient virus in the North Pole and we can ask for your compensation?

In a strange episode, Australian iron ore billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest shy Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt at a joint media conference on the source of the 10 million king of mining virus test kits. Forrest invited Consul General Victoria China Long Zhou to the press – without informing Hunt – and took a hammering blow on social media for that. This Tweet summarizes responses:

For a timeline of the ongoing story, please see: ‘Chewing gum stuck to the soles of our shoes: a war of Chinese-Australian words.

We may have to wait until after the pandemic to see if this is more than a war of words.

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