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Western media dishonest on deterioration of China-Australia ties

By Tom Fowdy | CGTN | Updated: 2020-12-01 09:33
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A visitor looks at a bottle of Australian wine during an industry expo in Beijing. [Photo by Nan Shan/For China Daily]

Recently, China has placed a series of tariffs and anti-dumping charges on a series of imports from Australia. The goods, which are lucrative to Canberra's exporters, concern barley, coal and most recently, Australian wine.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian had stated that Beijing "bares no responsibility for the situation" and had two weeks ago set out a list of grievances, or 14 points, as to what Canberra did in order to trigger the situation, which focuses on the unprecedented hostility that Australia's politics, media and academia have shown toward China over a course of several years.

The mainstream media in the West, however, portray this situation very differently. There's a certain narrative they are pushing in regards to China's actions, and it's time to shine the spotlight on what that is. Repeatedly, across many stories, Western outlets like to describe the deterioration of Australia-China ties as a response to "Scott Morrison demanding an independent inquiry on the origins of COVID-19" and in turn, depict trade-related actions as "economic coercion" by China, framing it as if Beijing is guilty and has something to hide over the virus.

In doing so, such outlets, including the BBC, deliberately ignore or dismiss the broader history building up to this moment and fail to account for the fact that for several years now, Australia has been increasingly unfriendly, antagonistic and pugnacious in its relationship with China, acting as the saboteurs in the bilateral relationship.

Actions have consequences and Morrison's comments did not happen in a vacuum. Beijing is not the aggressor. Yet the mainstream media are bigging up a fanciful narrative of "evil Beijing" versus "poor innocent Australia" which distorts this context and seeks to blame China for the virus whilst portraying Canberra as a "success story."

'A poisonous atmosphere'

Why are we in this situation now? COVID-19 has generated a lot of hostility toward China, yet in Australia the virus is at large inconsequential to a broader trend which had already long established itself. Starting in 2017, Australia started to become unilaterally hostile toward China across multiple areas of its society.

Its mainstream media transformed the subject into a matter of hysteria, creating a poisonous atmosphere with a relentlessly growing focus on Chinese influence and other stories which have incited growing paranoia, creating a grander picture that China is a threat to Australia. Ethnically Chinese Australians have faced growing suspicion and an increasing expectation that they conform.

In line with this, the Australian government has sought to follow US President Donald Trump administration in its anti-China crusade.

Although Morrison has sought to row back on this clarifying that he does not "seek economic containment of China," one may note the following: Australia was the first country to ban Huawei.

It has blocked Chinese investments and has been a relentless supporter of America's "Indo-Pacific" policy and quad initiative in tandem with India and Japan. It has also followed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's attempt to escalate tension in the South China Sea and many more things.

Viewing this context, when Morrison says he seeks stable ties with China, such remarks have no credibility, and logically it's no surprise Beijing has had enough.

Media dishonesty

Despite this, the mainstream media in the West paint a deceptive picture that Australia is in fact completely innocent, there were no tensions in this relationship and now it is the unjustified recipient of one-sided economic coercion from Beijing because it dared ask for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

That isn't the problem, it never was, not least for the fact China has not actually opposed such an inquiry in practice providing it is multilateral and of course, apolitical. The Western mainstream media narrative is therefore deliberately misleading.

This sort of coverage likes to play on the idea that "China has something to hide" whereas "Australia does not" and in turn plays upon a wider orientalist binary present in the Western media that Canberra constitutes a COVID-19 success story whereas Beijing does not. Australia's lockdowns and overcoming of the virus is celebrated, while China itself gains no such credit and is scapegoated.

It never mentions that Australia's extremely low population density and spaced out way of living makes such so much easier, not least compared to a country of 1.4 billion people filled with megacities. Thus, on account of COVID-19, the Western mainstream media streamlines the decline China-Australia relations not as a brewing product of ideological hostility vented from Canberra, but all of it exclusively as a product of Chinese wrongdoing which is then shoehorned into broader politicized points about the virus.

None of it is true. China has made decisions regarding Australia for a very good reason. This is not irrational, random or bellicose, it's a well thought out response to a country that for three years now has treated Beijing as a de facto enemy. The Western mainstream media ought to cover the facts.

Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain, and the US.

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