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The Chinese Communist Party’s Shameful Anti-Australian Smear Campaign

The Australian flag waves in front of the Great Hall of the People during a welcoming ceremony for then-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Beijing, China, in 2016. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

The Chinese Communist Party is bringing its enormous pressure to bear on Australia in a bullying campaign that encompasses a trade war and a smear campaign.

Australia has been a reliable U.S. partner in pushing back against the CCP’s malign activities in a range of areas, and it was one of the first countries to have a national awakening to Chinese political interference in its democratic processes. What’s really caused Beijing to pitch a fit, though, is the Australian government’s calls for a truly independent inquiry into the origins of the COVID pandemic and its growing military cooperation with other Indo-Pacific countries.

Australia is on the front lines of the global battle to protect the free world from Chinese authoritarianism, and it could use some help.

Last week, Beijing followed through on its threat to slap tariffs onto Australian products, imposing duties of 107–212 percent on various wines from the country. The move stands likely to cripple small wineries.

Then, Beijing added insult to economic injury. From NPR:

China is deepening its spat with Australia, refusing to apologize after a government official posted an altered image of an Australian soldier holding a knife to a young Afghan boy’s throat. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had asked for an apology; instead, a Chinese government representative excoriated Australia for its troops’ alleged brutality in Afghanistan.

The official is Zhao Lijian, a Chinese diplomat and foreign ministry spokesperson who has made a name for himself with his strident displays of nationalism online. It’s little exaggeration to say that Zhao — who is a committed propagator of CCP disinformation (including on the COVID pandemic’s origins) — is one of the individuals most responsible for China’s declining reputation in Western democracies.

His latest publicity stunt is in the same vein. The image is doctored. It’s part of an effort to cast Australia as an egregious war-crimes perpetrator that runs roughshod over international norms. Again, this is the Chinese Communist Party beating this drum. What’s true, however, is that the Australian military recently concluded that its soldiers murdered 39 civilians in Afghanistan in likely war crimes. Contrary to the Chinese government’s claims, though, Canberra has apologized, conducted a comprehensive investigation, and it has referred 19 suspected perpetrators to likely face trial.

Zhao’s risible claims — and the Chinese foreign ministry’s demands that Australia, which has apologized, apologize — have twisted a legitimate war-crimes investigation into a farcical political cudgel.

His tweet should prompt, and has prompted, questions, such as: If Australia, which has already apologized and initiated disciplinary proceedings for atrocities, has a process to punish criminals, what’s the CCP’s method for doing the same?

That was, of course, a rhetorical question. Here’s another: Why should Zhao, an official in a regime that prohibits Twitter use in the country it rules over, be allowed to spread disinformation on a U.S.-based tech platform?

The silver lining is that Beijing’s recent actions have made its bullying the focus of international discussion. Jake Sullivan, the incoming national-security adviser, said that the U.S. stands “shoulder to shoulder” with Australia in a tweet yesterday (though he didn’t say anything specifically about China in the post), and the State Department called these latest acts “a new low, even for the Chinese Communist Party.”

But one need not be a government official to stand with Australia against Chinese Communist bullying: Just buy a bottle of Australian wine.