The outspoken editor of the Communist Party of China’s English-language mouthpiece The Global Times has met with Australia’s ambassador to China as Canberra looks to salvage badly-damaged ties with Beijing.
Hu Xijin, a relentless critic of Australia in recent months, agreed to meet for lunch with ambassador Graham Fletcher on Wednesday as part of a new strategy to project Australia’s national interest-based positions, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) told Yahoo News Australia in a statement.
The aggressive move comes as the Morrison government looks to assert its diplomatic position with China after what has been an ugly back-and-forth played out largely through both nation’s media.
“Australia rejects the inaccurate and inflammatory coverage of Australia by the Global Times,” a DFAT spokesperson said.
“The meeting took place outside the embassy and was part of a wider set of engagements with Chinese media outlets to ensure Australia’s views are conveyed directly.”
“Australian officials must engage with arms of the Chinese Government, including state-controlled media.”
Hu, whose publication has unleashed a barrage of editorials lambasting Australia’s behaviour towards China throughout 2020, took to his Weibo account soon after the meeting to relay the key points of discussion with Mr Fletcher.
And while Canberra had hoped the meeting may have smoothed over Hu’s grievances with Australia, he appeared less than impressed.
Hu’s scathing Weibo response to meeting
He said he told Mr Fletcher Australia is “currently the unfriendliest country to China besides the United States”, a claim which the ambassador allegedly refuted.
“The ambassador insisted that Australia is doing what is necessary to safeguard its own interests,” he explained.
And while reportedly telling Hu Canberra was keen to improve relations, the outspoken editor reiterated Beijing was seeking significant concessions if they are to entertain the idea of discussing a solution to their ongoing spat.
“I am afraid Australia needs to really change its attitude towards China and make adjustments in its actions, instead of helping the United States bite China while making a cheap statement of impartiality,” he said.
“Otherwise China-Australia relations will hardly pick up, and Australia will continue to pay the price for its unreasonable China policy.”
Mr Fletcher reportedly told Hu Australia will always be allies of the US but they did not follow on all China-related issues.
In May The Global Times branded Australia “the dog of the US” while a month earlier Hu had likened Australia to chewing gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe.
The publication intensified its attack on Australia in the wake of the diplomatic spat surrounding the provocative image of an Australian soldier slitting the throat of an Afghan child shared on Twitter by a foreign ministry official in the wake of the Brereton report which alleged Australian soldiers played a role in the deaths of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners.
The meeting comes as further tariffs were slapped on Australian produce in what is widely seen as punishment for Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s robust stance on a series of China matters including the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
It has been widely publicised Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has had his calls to his Chinese counterparts ignored.
China’s Deputy Head of Mission in Australia Wang Xining told reporters last Friday such cooperation from the Chinese side was currently unlikely and “concrete actions” from the Morrison government would be the route to discussions.
And while the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade may see Hu as its only current route to Beijing’s hierarchy, Mr Wang insisted Beijing is separated from Chinese media and is not “manipulating” its publications.
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