France and New Zealand have joined Australia in criticizing the Chinese government for its inflammatory tweet about Australian soldiers, as a former senior diplomat called on more countries to take a stand against “coercion” by Beijing.
Tensions between China and Australia showed no signs of abating on Tuesday, with the Chinese Embassy in Canberra accusing the Morrison government of overreacting to the social media posting and stoking the problem for purpose. national policies.
Chinese state media also claimed Australia was treating ‘China’s goodwill with evil’, while a nationalist Global Times editor tweeted that Australia ‘can’t even be counted like a paper tiger, it is only a paper cat ”.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her government had raised concerns directly with China over the “unrealistic” image attached to the tweet of Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian .
The French government described the tweet as unworthy of diplomatic methods and as an insult to all countries whose armed forces had been engaged in Afghanistan.
Zhao’s tweet captured the findings of a recent report of a four-year official investigation into the conduct of Australian Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan, but included a digitally altered image that appeared to show an Australian soldier slashing the throat of a child holding a sheep, with other body shapes hidden under a large Australian flag.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had called on the Chinese government to apologize and remove the “disgusting” tweet, but the Foreign Ministry said it was Australia that should apologize to the Afghan people. .
Trump’s White House National Security Council tweeted, “Australian wine will be showcased at a White House holiday reception this week. Too bad for vino lovers in China who, due to Beijing’s coercive tariffs on Australian winegrowers, will be missed.
Former Australian senior foreign official Richard Maude said there was no end in sight to severing relations with Beijing after a series of trade actions against Australia this year, and that it was a “fairly lonely and difficult battle for a middle power.” be alone “.
“What we really need is enough countries to be willing to take a public stand,” said Maude, who helped oversee the development of the Australian government’s foreign policy white paper.
“The multilateral response against China, where possible, could help. It’s a good place to start the discussion about China with the new Biden administration and with Europe. ”
Maude noted that the debate over how to deal with a more aggressive China was changing rapidly in Europe and Biden was committed to working more closely with his allies and partners. This could potentially lead to coordinated action to help protect like-minded democracies from certain aspects of China’s behavior, he said.
“At the moment, China doesn’t really bear the costs, from its point of view, by relying so hard on us. It would help us if that cost was a bit higher. ”
He said the generational challenge for Australia and other countries was whether it was possible “to find a model of coexistence with an authoritarian and nationalist power that believes it can now act without restraint and bend small countries to his will”.
Maude, who is now a senior researcher at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said prospects for coexistence were not optimistic at the moment, but it was too early to give up the possibility of a more stable relationship. but limited.
“Cool determination” should be the mantra, and “not everything China does requires an equal response”.
“Our aim should continue to be to protect ourselves where necessary while remaining open to trade and other cooperation where it is mutually beneficial,” he said.
Maude said that while China has never admitted its mistakes, “maybe the best we can hope for is for Beijing to realize that it has overstepped the bounds and, when the dust settles a bit, finds a way. opportunity to open the dialogue that the Prime Minister called ”.
Maude added that Australian companies were at the forefront of the trade dispute and “may also need more government support” to deal with the financial impact.
The appeal was made as former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged Morrison to keep his cool and not give in to China’s “intimidation”, arguing that the range of trade measures taken against the Australia was a “pressure game”.
“Unless there is a change in attitude in Beijing, the tensions will continue indefinitely,” Turnbull told a McGrathNicol webinar.
“I think the thing that will change this time of tension is not a pullback, crawl or apology from Australia… but simply the Chinese Communist Party realizing that its tactics are not working.”
But Labor Prime Minister Mark McGowan said companies were worried about the spiraling relationship and if the Foreign Office tweet was unacceptable, now was the time to ‘come back and talk and have your head cold in the relationship ”.
A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy urged the Australian government to “face the heart of the current setback in bilateral ties and take constructive practical steps to help it get back on track.”
The spokesperson said that “the rage and roar of some Australian politicians and media is nothing but misreading and overreacting to Mr Zhao’s tweet.”
” A [purpose] is to distract the public from the horrendous atrocities committed by some Australian soldiers. The other is to blame China for the worsening of bilateral relations. There could be another attempt to stir up national nationalism.
Federal opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said the government should “react calmly and strategically rather than emotionally” to what she called “deliberate provocation” on the part of China .
“We have major problems in our trade relations, which have important economic consequences. We must respond calmly, we must respond strategically, and we must respond with unity. ”
Ryan Manuel, a Chinese scholar based in Hong Kong, said Zhao would not have been instructed by anyone to send his tweet nor would he be sentenced for it.
Manuel said the tweet “represents a response to a government direction / strategy, which must be against Australia”.
“Zhao knows the motives (the Twitter outrage got him a promotion only a year ago) so he attempted a stab in the dark.” It has been successful, and so he and many others will continue to use the same methods, ”Manuel said.
Morrison’s response had heightened Zhao’s reach and impact, he added.
Additional reporting by Helen Davidson