What are you worried about Australian politics

Beijing attacks Australia: when will China's "naked aggression" hit Germany?

Australia and China are bitterly fighting. Experts warn that the People's Republic Down Under is testing its limits. If there is no resistance, Europe will soon be threatened with something similar.

The tweet is still pinned.

In late November, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, posted a photo montage on Twitter. The montage shows a grinning Australian soldier pressing a blood-streaked knife to the throat of an Afghan child. The background to this is that the Australian Army admitted war crimes in Afghanistan in November.

However, the fact that it was the Australian government that opened the investigation did not seem to interest Zhao. He added the cynical line to the montage: "Do not be afraid. We are coming to bring you peace." He did not mention that it was a montage.

Just a few hours later, Scott Morrison, the Australian premier, spoke live on Australian television. In an angry speech, he described the photomontage as "really offensive", "deeply insulting" and "extremely outrageous". He urged China to delete the tweet and apologize for it.

But in Beijing they didn't even think about it. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs defended the assembly as a caricature. It is pinned to Zhao Lijian's Twitter account - that is, it is there above all other tweets. She now has more than 72,800 likes.

Endless series of conflicts

The photomontage is just the latest in a seemingly endless series of conflicts dividing Canberra and Beijing. Since the beginning of the year, the relationship has escalated in a breathtaking way. "Well, it's in the bucket," said Kevin Rudd, former Australian premier and experienced China expert, in a recent interview with Australian broadcaster ABC about the Australian-Chinese relationship. Then he added, "And if the bucket had a basement, it would be there."

The escalation started in April. In the wake of the pandemic that began in China, Canberra called for an independent investigation. This met with outrage in the People's Republic, which had tried to cover up the outbreak of the epidemic in December. "Australia is always there and causes trouble," wrote Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the propaganda paper "Global Times", on Weibo, a Chinese platform: "It's a bit like chewing gum stuck to the soles of China's shoes. Sometimes you have to Find a stone to rub it off. " The violence that echoed in this post should soon become a reality.

In the summer, the People's Republic began to impose punitive tariffs on Australian imports. It introduced tariffs on beef and coal, and most recently on wine. It can be doubted that the printing will be crowned with success. The international parliamentary group IPAC called for people to drink Australian wine at Christmas - out of solidarity with Canberra.

Beijing on course for confrontation - no sound from Germany

But Beijing remained on a confrontational course. In September, the last two Australian correspondents remaining in China, Bill Birtles and Mike Smith, fled the country after being arrested by Chinese security forces. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the journalists were interviewed on "national security" grounds. Upon their return to Australia, Birtles and Smith said Australian diplomats advised them to leave China for security reasons. For the first time since the Cultural Revolution, there are no more Australian journalists in China.

In November, Beijing then drove the escalation to its previous climax. In a concerted effort, the Chinese Embassy in Canberra released a document to several Australian media outlets. This lists 14 points of contention. And it makes it clear where Beijing sees the sole reason for the conflict: namely in Canberra. It accuses Australia of "poisoning" relations. The Australian government also takes it for those involved in kin who have nothing to do with the government, such as think tanks and media houses. "The list is an oath of disclosure," said China expert Rush Doshi on Twitter: "It shows that China holds countries responsible for their free civil societies and serves as a template for building an illiberal order."

The amazing thing: In all these months of escalation, there was no sound from Germany. Berlin and Canberra maintain a "strategic partnership". Australia is also a member of the "Alliance of Multilateralists" - an initiative that Germany and France launched in 2019 in response to Donald Trump's aversion to international cooperation. But while Germany's "strategic partner" was harassed Down Under for months, Berlin watched in silence.

"Naked Aggression"

But Beijing's pressure on Canberra is not an isolated matter, says Michael Shoebridge. The Australian is doing research at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) think tank in Canberra. Rather, Beijing's "naked aggression" is a "common challenge" for democracies worldwide.

"Beijing doesn't want other governments to make decisions similar to Australia," says Shoebridge. There is also a domestic political reason for the aggressive behavior of Chinese diplomats towards Australia: President Xi Jinping wants Chinese diplomats to "fight" with other nations in order to advance China's rise. Whoever struggles, according to the Australian, increases his chances of promotion as a career diplomat. So the aggression is also a drama staged for the Chinese leadership.

Thorsten Benner sees it similarly. He heads the Berlin think tank GPPi. "Beijing wants to make an example of Australia," says Benner. But the expert does not see the real recipient of Beijing's aggression in Canberra. "Addressees are the other governments in the region and also in Europe or elsewhere, who should be shown that it is better to be good with Beijing's power and be docile."

Expert: Germans cultivate "illusions and fear"

The rest of the world shouldn't kowtow Beijing, says Benner, but rather draw a lesson from the Australian example: "That a collective defense mechanism of open societies against economic and political coercion from Beijing is required." That means: open societies of all countries, unite!

But the federal government is not exactly a pioneer when it comes to such an association. Germany is taking a soft course vis-à-vis China. To date, Berlin has not excluded the Chinese network supplier Huawei from expanding the German 5G infrastructure - although the Federal Intelligence Service has reported serious security concerns.

Benner believes that this admission is a mistake. It illustrates that Angela Merkel's China policy vacillates between exaggerated hopes for a European-Chinese investment agreement and fear of reprisals against German companies. "But the combination of illusions and fear is the worst possible advisor for a good German China policy," says Benner.

But the expert also wants to draw another lesson from the Australian example. Despite all justified criticism of Beijing, it is important to distinguish between the party and the citizens. Benner observes "a heated climate of general suspicion of Chinese-born Australians" in Australia. That should be avoided.

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  • Afghanistan,
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