China has accused Australia of manipulating the COVID-19 pandemic for political interests and rubbished ‘baseless allegations’ that Beijing spread disinformation throughout the crisis.
As relationships between the countries plunge further, China again unleashed on Australia through their embassy in Canberra and a spokesman in Beijing.
Australia has stood firm and said the nation would not back down because of ‘intimidation tactics’ following months of rising tensions and political tit-for-tat.
The escalation comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison first demanded an inquiry into the origins and handling of the COVID-19 crisis resulting in President Xi Jinping imposing tariffs on local produce and discouraging students and tourists from travelling when border restrictions lift.
The Chinese Embassy in Canberra on Wednesday said: ‘Some Australian media have been fraught with rumours, lies and malicious slanders against China’.
Some Australian politicians were also accused of ‘playing up to false information.’
‘It is obvious to see who is engaged in stigmatisation, politicisation, sowing division, and undermining international cooperation,’ an embassy spokesman added.
The spokesman also said claims China spread disinformation during the pandemic were ‘completely rubbish’.
Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham (pictured) said the nation would not back down because of China’s ‘intimidation tactics’
China retaliated when Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an inquiry into the pandemic. Pictured: A doctor treating a patient infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan
While Australian authorities, including Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, have urged China to reconsider the current stance on trade with Australia, the pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
‘Australia is ready, and willing, to have that mature, sensible dialogue that grown-ups have even when you have differences of opinion,’ the trade minister said.
Mr Birmingham also said the nation would not back down because of China’s ‘intimidation tactics’.
‘What we will never do is change who we are or what we stand for,’ he said.
‘We will never sell out our national interest. We will not compromise our sovereignty, our values or our principles.’
Chinese government spokesman Zhao Lijian accused Australia of ‘manipulating the epidemic for personal gain’ during a speech in Beijing on Wednesday.
‘Australia conducted such political manipulations of the epidemic in disregard of the facts and out of its own political interest,’ he said.
‘We do not believe it is in Australia’s long-term interest to manipulate the epidemic for personal gain, disregard facts and undermine international cooperation.
‘We hope that individual Australian officials, in a responsible manner and with an impartial and objective spirit, would stop political manipulation of the epidemic and do more to benefit the international cooperation in fighting the epidemic.’
World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Beijing on January 28 ahead of their meeting to discuss how to curb the spread of a new pneumonia-causing coronavirus
The latest comments from China came after Foreign Minister Marise Payne branded the World Health Organisation ‘not fit for purpose’ as she set out Australia’s global ambitions in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
She said the WHO was not ‘free from undue influence’ after it heaped praise on China’s handling of the pandemic which spread from Wuhan in December 2019.
In a landmark foreign policy speech in Canberra, Senator Payne again accused China of spreading disinformation to create ‘fear and division’ in the West.
Chinese state media has argued the nation is racist and dangerous for foreign travellers and students following the nation’s tough response to COVID-19 and determination to get to the bottom of the outbreak.
‘Australia has been clear in rejecting as disinformation the Chinese Government’s warnings,’ Senator Payne said.
‘I can say emphatically that Australia will welcome students and visitors from all over the world, regardless of race, gender or nationality.
‘The disinformation we have seen contributes to a climate of fear and division when what we need is cooperation and understanding.’
A tweet from the WHO on 24 January which shows it repeating Chinese insistence that the virus did not spread between humans
The Australian government has forged its own path toward stopping the virus, managing to slow the spread of the deadly disease, without following advice from the WHO. Pictured: Nurses at Sydney Airport
Senator Payne also called out propaganda posted on social media by authoritarian regimes including China, Russia and Turkey to make themselves ‘look good’ at dealing with the virus.
‘Let’s be clear: disinformation during a pandemic will cost lives,’ she said.
‘It is troubling that some countries are using the pandemic to undermine liberal democracy and promote their own, more authoritarian models.’
The bulk of Senator Payne’s speech at the National Security College focused on how Australia will help improve global co-operation and, in particular, reform the WHO.
The UN organisation come under fire from the US, Australia and European nations after it stalled on declaring a pandemic, told countries to keep borders open and repeated information from the Chinese government, including that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
Australia was the first nation to call for an inquiry into the origins and spread of the virus – sparking huge trade tensions with China – and was backed by the European Union before the UN agreed in May.
Outlining a more ambitious role for Australia in the world, Senator Payne (pictured last year) said the country would be more active in pushing its values of freedom and democracy
A Registered Nurse conducts a throat swab test with a patient in the clinical assessment room at St George Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic
Outlining a more ambitious role for Australia in the world, Senator Payne said the country would be more active in pushing its values of freedom and democracy.
‘Effective multilateralism, conducted through strong and transparent institutions, serves Australia’s interests, she said.
‘Our challenge is to ensure the institutions, and our active engagement, delivers for Australia and for Australians. To do this, Australia must better target our role in the global system.’
Senator Payne said new global rules to govern cyber and artificial intelligence, critical minerals and outer space must fit Australia’s ‘enduring values and principles’.
‘We want to deepen our cooperation with our likeminded and regional partners on shared goals, to shape better outcomes,’ she said.
Chinese state media has argued the nation is racist and dangerous for foreign travellers and students following the nation’s tough response to COVID-19 and determination to get to the bottom of the outbreak. Pictured: Chinese President Xi Jinping
Senator Payne also suggested the rising power of China was putting a ‘strain’ on the international order.
‘Multilateral institutions are experiencing unprecedented strain from a new era of strategic competition, shifts in global power, technological disruption and complex security, health and economic challenges,’ she said.
But she insisted Australia would not turn its back on global co-operation.
‘Australia will continue to work to ensure global institutions are fit-for-purpose, relevant and contemporary, accountable to member states, free from undue influence, and have an appropriately strong focus on the Indo-Pacific,’ she said.
‘We will continue to support reform efforts in the United Nations and its agencies to improve transparency, accountability and effectiveness.
‘This is foreign policy designed to use Australian agency and influence to shape a safer world and make us safer at home.’