The 14 sins of Australia: Beijing expands list of grievances and digs in for extended diplomatic dispute

Foreign Affairs

The Chinese embassy in Australia shared a detailed list of 14 grievances that Beijing has against the country, extending far beyond China’s core interests and directly criticizing internal Australian affairs.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

Beijing has even more grievances with Australia than the seven areas of disagreement that Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚 listed yesterday. The Sydney Morning Herald reports on a “dossier of 14 disputes” shared by the Chinese embassy in Canberra (newly emphasized grievances beyond those listed yesterday are bolded):

The government document goes further than any public statements made by the Chinese Communist Party, accusing the Morrison government of attempting “to torpedo” Victoria’s Belt and Road deal, and blaming Canberra for “unfriendly or antagonistic” reports on China by independent Australian media…

The list of grievances also includes: government funding for “anti-China” research at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute [ASPI]

The document also takes aim at “thinly veiled allegations against China on cyber attacks without any evidence” and claims Australia was the first country without a maritime presence in the South China Sea to condemn China’s actions at the United Nations…

It also accuses MPs of “outrageous condemnations of the governing party of China and racist attacks against Chinese or Asian people” after Liberal Senator Eric Abetz demanded Chinese-Australian witnesses at a Parliamentary inquiry condemn the Chinese Communist Party.

A picture of the full list of grievances is viewable here.

  • Compared with Zhao’s list yesterday, the 14 points group together some subjects (e.g., “interference in China’s Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan affairs”) and split other subjects into multiple bullet points (e.g., calling for an “international independent inquiry” into COVID-19 is a separate offense from “spreading disinformation imported from the U.S. around China’s efforts of containing COVID-19”).
  • It’s notable that the “Quad” is not included in the list, though Beijing has separately signaled its unease with Australia’s new security agreement with Japan. The two countries are half of the unofficial four-nation security alliance that also includes the U.S. and India.

China is not interested in compromise, Zhao signaled in today’s Chinese Foreign Ministry press conference (English, Chinese), because the “crux of the deteriorating bilateral ties” is “Australia’s repeated wrong acts and remarks…as well as its provocative and confrontational actions.”

  • Zhao added an idiom that reads literally, “Whoever hung the bell [on the tiger’s neck] must untie it” (解铃还须系铃人 jiě líng hái xū xì líng rén), meaning that those who have caused problems should be the ones to solve problems.
  • Unfortunately for Beijing, all 14 items on the dossier “are seen by the Department of Foreign Affairs as key to Australia’s national interest and non-negotiable, leaving the two countries facing the prospect of an extended diplomatic and economic dispute,” per the Sydney Morning Herald.

Reaction in Australia

“The Federal Government believes the complaints are unreasonable and misrepresent Australia’s position,” the Australian ABC reports. A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade pushed back in particular on Beijing’s criticism of independent media and the speech of members of parliament.

Some Australian scholars saw reduced prospects for compromise after Beijing’s public airing of grievances. Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College, said that Beijing’s action “further reduces any scope for adjustment,” while Danielle Cave, a deputy director at ASPI, called it “ham-fisted diplomacy” and “quite the strategic error.”

Global significance

“The list is revealing,” commented Rush Doshi, Director of the Brookings China Strategy Initiative, as it “shows the PRC holds countries responsible for their free civil societies and serves as a template for illiberal order-building.”

  • “An old view was that China used econ[omic] coercion when core interests had been crossed. That’s outdated,” Doshi concludes.

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