As China-Australia relations continue to remain in the spotlight, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson has lashed out at “sinister” Australian politicians, and questioned why Australia hasn’t stood up to the US over its “foreign interference”.
Zhao Lijian’s comments on Monday (local time) came after he was questioned on Victoria’s agreement with China for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and Peter Dutton’s comments calling the relationship a “propaganda exercise.”
The BRI is an estimated $1.5 trillion foreign and economic policy from the Chinese that will create maritime trade routes globally.
The home affairs minister previously said it was “gravely concerning” Victoria was the only state to come to such an agreement, with the Morrison government criticising the move which is deemed to have undermined Australian foreign policy.
Mr Morrison himself has urged states to "respect and recognise the role of the federal government in setting foreign policy."
However, at the time of signing a memorandum of understanding in 2018, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews insisted the motivation behind the move was to provide “more jobs and more trade and investment for Victorians.”
Mr Zhao called out internal and external interference over the agreement, insisting the relationship was “completely reasonable, lawful and aboveboard”.
“The groundless accusations made by some Australian politicians are totally untenable,” he said.
“They only expose their negligence of the Australian people’s interests and their sinister intentions of damaging China-Australia relations.”
Mr Zhao called on Australian politicians to “discard ideological prejudices” to prevent Australia and China’s relationship deteriorating further.
China calls for Australia to stand up to ‘bizarre’ US move
Days earlier US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US wouldn't hesitate to "simply disconnect" from Australia if Victoria's involvement in China's Belt and Road initiative threatens its telecommunications security.
And while the US ambassador to Australia, Arthur Culvahouse, stressed the US had confidence in Australia over the matter, Chinese state-media publication The Global Times warned Australia should be “well prepared to be abandoned at any time” by the US.
“Obviously, what is on the mind of Pompeo and his likes is only US self-interests, and Washington is not going to foot the bill for the lost Australian jobs,” the Chinese mouthpiece publication wrote.
“Australia is already in a passive position in the face of wavering US policy. Canberra is forced to pick a side between Beijing and the Washington even when it is loath to jeopardise its relationship with China.”
Speaking on Monday, Mr Zhao hit out at the US over its interference in the matter, and urged Australia to stand up for itself.
“The threat from American politicians is even more bizarre,” he said.
“Some politicians in Australia have been saying all day long that they oppose "foreign interference" and "Chinese coercion".
“Why don't they stand up against the US? This has once again exposed the deep-rooted ideological bias and double standards of some people on the Australian side.”
Chinese-Australian relationship woes roll on
On Monday, Chinese state-publication The China Daily re-shared a cartoon of Australia taking orders from the US to attack China through a reference to the renowned story of Don Quixote.
A tweet on its Twitter account read: “Yes man to one, liar to all”, appearing to accuse the Morrison government of continually siding with the US.
The furore around the BRI is the latest flare up involving Australia and China in recent weeks, with troubled diplomatic relations on a knife’s edge.
Australia’s vocal stance on the need for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus infuriated China and led to a war of words over Australia’s motives.
There is speculation recent import restrictions slapped on Australian beef and barley by the Chinese is retaliation for its stance on a COVID-19 investigation.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.