Chinese state media has hit out at Australia for what it believes to be a hollow gesture to Southeast Asian nations.
Nationalistic tabloid the Global Times, a renowned mouthpiece of Beijing, has accused Australia of attempting to "woo" allies to challenge China in the region with a newly-announced comprehensive strategic partnership with the Association of South-East Asian Nations.
It is a move the Global Times says will likely fail.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed a $154 million package to fund several projects across Southeast Asia, yet an opinion piece from the Global Times said it was an insufficient offering that would be seen for what it is.
Comparing it to the multi-billion dollar expenditure on AUKUS's new nuclear-powered submarine deal, the publication said it was clear economic ties were not Canberra's main interests but the Morrison government were instead motivated by geopolitical objectives.
"Australia's halfhearted and ill-intended offering may disappoint some in ASEAN, especially those hoping for upgraded trade cooperation, increased investment activity and funding for infrastructure projects," it wrote.
"Getting involved in unnecessary geopolitical backbiting will not only be damaging to regional economies, but will also undermine peace and stability, which is the most important prerequisite for shared economic development of the entire region."
The Global Times suggested Australia had a history of empty promises when it came to ASEAN and economic cooperation and branded Australia "delusional" for attempting to use trade as a way to lure Southeast Asian countries away from China.
"Against growing ties between China and ASEAN, Australia would be wise to seize the unprecedented opportunity and join the cooperation, instead of being a troublemaker standing in the way of cooperation," it said.
"If Australia cannot face up to the reality and prove its value of meeting the economic needs of ASEAN member states, it will end up being cut out of the regional supply chain."
State media ramps up Australian commentary
After a relatively calm period in what has been a turbulent two years for Sino-Australian relations, tensions have flared again in recent weeks, with the ever-critical Global Times once again providing its narrative on the current state of affairs.
Earlier this month Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin used former prime minister Tony Abbott's controversial visit to Taiwan as an opportunity to warn Australia of mass fatalities if it dares engage in military conflict with China.
Beijing has been riled by Defence Minister Peter Dutton's recent remarks where he has been accused of hyping the chance of war in the region.
Hu suggested Australia would need to ready itself if it continues to hype up the threat of China.
"Australia can deploy most of its warships around the Chinese mainland and give young Australian soldiers 'a worthy death defending democracy'," he said.
It came weeks after the Global Times warned Beijing would not hesitate in making an example out of Australian troops after the landmark AUKUS announcement that will see nuclear-powered submarines made on home soil.
"If it acts with bravado to show its allegiance to the US and takes the most prominent position in the US' anti-China strategy, especially by being militarily assertive, then Canberra will most likely become a target of Beijing's countermeasures so as to send a warning to others," it said.
"Thus, Australian troops are also most likely to be the first batch of Western soldiers to waste their lives in the South China Sea."
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