'Australia Is Sick,' Says Chinese Official in Latest War of Words

Beijing's year-long war of words with Canberra continued this week after Chinese diplomats described Australia as "sick" and accused its officials of trying to "stir up confrontation."

The Chinese government's relations with Australia remain at an all-time low after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus last April and Beijing responded with punitive trade restrictions on Australian goods.

The cementing of Australia's involvement in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, with the United States, Japan and India—described by China as a "clique"—has further strained relations with Beijing, as has Canberra's decision to cancel the state of Victoria's infrastructure deals, as part of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The acrimonious relationship continued on Tuesday when Wang Wenbin, China's foreign ministry spokesperson, blamed Australia for the deterioration in bilateral ties—rooted, he said, in the country's "crude interference into China's internal affairs" and its "damaging of China's interests."

"Australia is sick, but it is asking others to take medicine. This will not solve the problem," Wang said. "China is not responsible for the current difficulties facing China-Australia relations."

His response followed a question about Secretary Frances Adamson, head of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who recently told a group of university graduates that China "expects compromise on key national interests in exchange for dialogue and cooperation," despite Canberra's desire to have a "constructive relationship" with Beijing.

In his lengthy response, Wang chided Australia for "sabotaging normal exchanges and cooperation," citing the country's ban on Huawei's 5G technology and the tearing up of Victoria's BRI deals.

The BRI decision in particular has been met with strong opposition by Chinese officials, such as its embassy in Canberra. Dubbed the "New Silk Road," the project is considered the legacy-making foreign policy centerpiece of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Explaining Australia's call to end the deals—two of four axed last week—Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the agreements were "inconsistent with Australia's foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations."

As is the case with U.S.-China relations, the Chinese government's clashes with Australia cover several areas. They include the government-backed Australian Strategic Policy Institute's studies into ongoing human rights abuses in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where U.N. experts say more than a million Uyghur Muslims have been systematically detained as part of a radical counterterrorism campaign.

In the realm of security, Australia appears to have split from its neighbor New Zealand and taken a more hardened stance against China through its involvement in the Quad, which held its first leaders summit in March.

Over the weekend, Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton warned that war with China over Taiwan should not be discounted, citing Beijing's "long-held objective" of capturing the island under its "reunification" goal.

The country's home affairs secretary, Mike Pezzullo, said free nations in the Indo-Pacific were again hearing the "drums of war," in a speech marking Anzac Day, the national day of remembrance.

On Wednesday, Zhao Lijian—the Chinese official who started a diplomatic dispute with Australia over a doctored picture earlier this year—accused Prime Minister Morrison's cabinet of trying to "stir up confrontation and hype up war threats."

Chinese Diplomat Chides Australia In News Conference
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin. Beijing's year-long war of words with Canberra continued this week after Chinese diplomats described Australia as "sick." GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images