Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has weighed in on Australia’s growing rift with China, urging the government to “not give in to this bully”.
Tensions between the two nations heightened over the past week, sparked by an alarming tweet that was posted by China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, showing a doctored image of an Australian soldier slitting the throat of an Afghan child.
The post was slammed as “repugnant” by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and escalated into an online war of words - even leading to another provocative image featuring Mr Morrison and Australia’s alleged war crimes.
Mr Turnbull offered a word of advice to the government on Thursday, telling 9News "we just need to let the temperature lower or at least do nothing to raise it ourselves”.
An official from the Chinese embassy reportedly gave the media outlet a list of 14 grievances, which included several of Mr Turnbull’s own policies including foreign interference laws that “targeted China” and banning Huawei from the rollout of the 5G network.
Mr Turnbull blasted the list as "utterly counterproductive” and “not acceptable”, before saying the best thing to do with that list was “bin it”.
"There's a reason why governments don't conduct themselves in this way," he said.
"I've never seen anything like it before.”
Mr Turnbull said China’s behaviour was only negatively impacting its own image and urged Australia not to get involved with playground antics.
"The one thing you can guarantee will see more bullying is if you start giving in to bullies,” he said.
"Is this style of diplomacy increasing China's influence around the world? No, it's diminishing it.
"Australians can see there is transparently, plain bullying, attempted bullying going on. The government's obviously got to respond to this astutely and carefully but it certainly shouldn't be giving into this bully or any others."
Chinese social media platform blocks Morrison’s post
Mr Morrison used WeChat to respond to Lijian’s offensive tweet, but the Chinese platform blocked his post, saying it distorted historical events and would confuse the public.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Mr Morrison’s message “made it very clear Australia is proud of its servicemen and women who wear the uniform”.
Mr Morrison played a straight bat when asked about the intervention and Twitter's refusal to remove the original image.
"I'll leave that for them to explain their actions and I'll leave WeChat to make an explanation of their actions if they choose to make one," he told reporters on Thursday.
"But what is most important, is despite the events of recent months and weeks and indeed years, Australia remains committed to constructive and open and regular dialogue at a leader and ministerial level to address the tensions are clearly there in the relationship," he said.
"It is in our interest to do that, it's in the Chinese government's to do that."
- with AAP
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