The Federal Government passed a foreign relations bill on December 8, giving the federal government authority to terminate agreements signed with foreign powers by universities, state and local governments, or local councils.
This legislation also applies to existing deals, indicating that Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) signed with the Victorian government could be canceled.
Hostility and Falsified CCP Photo
After the coronavirus pandemic spread worldwide, Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent investigation into the source of the virus. This angered the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which started a trade war soon afterward.
From high tariffs on wine and barley, to restricted importation of meat, lobster, lumber, coal, and cotton from Australia, the CCP imposed a series of retaliatory measures against Australia. Furthermore, six Australian meat suppliers were banned and blacklisted without being given a reason.
On November 30, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian posted a doctored image on Twitter showing a grinning Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of an Afghanistan child whose head was covered by an Australian flag.
Through Twitter, Morrison referred to the tweet as “truly repugnant.” “It is deeply offensive to every Australian, every Australian who has served in that uniform.” He told reporters, “The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes.”
This incident also angered ordinary Australian citizens, and some began to boycott Chinese products. In a survey conducted by The Daily Telegraph, 86% of the 175,000 respondents said they’d boycott China-made products because it was important to send a message to Beijing that Australia won’t be bullied.
Foreign Relations Bill
Besides tension over trade, China also complained to Australia about over 14 issues, including the foreign relations bill since its introduction.
After a BRI memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed by China and the Victorian government in 2018, the Australian federal government was worried about Beijing’s intentions for global dominance. Some parliament members also viewed deals between China and Australian universities as allowing “propaganda tools” to be instituted, such as Confucius Institutes.
Marise Payne, Foreign Minister and supporter of the bill, said that states and territories were “engaging more frequently at high levels with foreign governments and their entities, with tangible impacts on Australia’s foreign relations.”
“This increased engagement, and the growing strategic complexity of the 21st century, brings greater risks, requiring more consultation and due diligence,” she explained.
Australian Version of the Magnitsky Act
On December 7, a subcommittee of the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, published a report titled “Criminality, corruption, and impunity: Should Australia join the Global Magnitsky movement?”
The 192-page report listed 33 recommendations. At the top of the list: “The Sub-committee recommends that the Australian Government enact stand-alone targeted sanctions legislation to address human rights violations and corruption, similar to the United States’ Magnitsky Act 2012.”
Among other measures, “The Sub-committee recommends that the sanctions include visa/travel restrictions, limit access to assets, and restrict access to Australia’s financial systems.”
New laws are expected to be introduced by early 2021. This is viewed as Australia’s greatest step forward on human rights issues in the past few decades.
Bill Browder, billionaire and advocate of the Act, said Australia’s Magnitsky laws “couldn’t come soon enough, because the world is on fire right now.” While such laws could apply to human rights violators across countries, “the big question is what to do about China, which will be the big challenge.”
“There are obvious officials in China who should be sanctioned for Xinjiang. Australia should sanction Chinese officials but it shouldn’t by itself… It should do so in conjunction with Britain, Canada, and the United States,” he added.
Newspapers Stopped Publishing CCP Propaganda
Media company Nine Entertainment has recently stopped carrying the eight-page CCP newspaper each month in Sydney Morning Herald, the Age, and the Australian Financial Review. Under the previous owners of Fairfax Media, these newspapers had been carrying the lift-out since 2016.
Labeled “China Watch,” these propaganda sheets are prepared by China Daily as part of the CCP’s official narrative and circulated internationally through the Washington Post, the Telegraph, and France’s Le Figaro.
After the pandemic damaged the world, the UK’s Daily Telegraph also ceased its agreement with China Daily.
In February, the supplement had high praise for the CCP for its response to Covid-19. Chris Uhlmann, political editor of Nine News, found the insert “extremely disturbing.”
“Since the moment the decision was made [in 2016] to have the China Daily insert in the Sydney Morning Herald, I’ve made it clear that I’ve found it an extremely disturbing development that Communist Party propaganda has the apparent endorsement of an Australian media organisation,” he said.
Ending “Sister Cities” with Communist China
Facing the CCP’s bullying, trade war, and defamatory tweets with a fake photo, members of the Federal parliament and city councilors have called to revisit “sister cities” relationships with China.
“The tweet was appalling but not surprising given Beijing’s history of bellicose and illegal actions across many fronts,” remarked Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. “It reinforces my warnings against the CCP over a long period of time and my calls for us to decouple from China.”
She proposed reconsidering or canceling sister cities with China. Some local officials said the relationship only gave some officials an excuse for overseas vacations. The newly-passed foreign relations bill also allows more scrutinisation of these sister city connections.
Marcus Cornish, city councilor from Penrith, suggested ending the city’s Friendly Relationship agreement with Kunshan City in China’s Jiangsu Province that began in 2003. He said Zhao’s tweet “is a blight on our whole nation and many of our soldiers, in the large wars and recent wars.”
“With Chinese money coming into the Penrith area, the influence of China on decisions that are made in the Penrith area – whether it be by State and Federal or Local – by pressure through their companies, may not be in the best interests of the people of Penrith,” Cornish explained.
A city councilor in Dubbo also called for an end to that city’s relationship with Wujiang in Jiangsu Province, while the connection between Sydney and Guangzhou in China’s Guangdong Province is also being investigated.
Right now, 99 sister city relations have been established between China and Australia, while 32 Friendly Relationship agreements exist between the two countries.