China hijacks minister’s press conference
China has hijacked a press conference with Health Minister Greg Hunt on COVID-19 testing kits in bizarre scenes the government is trying to insist are an "olive branch" to cool rising diplomatic tensions.
Just hours after accusing Australia of "panda bashing", dirty tricks and "an all-out crusade" against the communist superpower in retaliation for Scott Morrison's calls for an independent probe into the origins of COVID-19, China's consul-general for Victoria, Zhou Long, made a surprise appearance during a nationally televised press conference.
The event was held to announce that mining magnate Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest's Minderoo Foundation had secured 10 million COVID-19 testing kits from China for use in Australia.
Senior government sources confirmed it was not expected the consul-general would speak at the press conference until Mr Forrest welcomed him to the podium and he began praising China's response to the virus.
"The Chinese Government has released information related to the COVID-19 in open, transparent and responsible manner and we have worked closely with WHO (World Health Organisation) and other countries, including shared experiences in epidemic prevention and control and providing assistance within our capacity," he said.
"China very much appreciates and thankful to the compassion, support and sympathy of the Australian people to towards the Chinese people in our fight against the virus and vice versa. We are also doing everything possible to help Australia.
"And this project is another testimony of the friendship and the co-operation between our two countries and the two peoples.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the virus knows no ideology, border or race, and in face of the pandemic the testings of all countries are closely interwoven where we're all in this together.
"Views have been expressed that COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest crisis faced by mankind since World War II.
"If that is the case, we have no choice but to work together to make the world a safer, more harmonious and a better world."
The comments were notable given they come in the middle of a war of words between the two nations, with Chinese state media bashing Australia as a "trouble maker" and comparing it to a piece of chewing gum stuck to China's shoes.
The mining billionaire dodged questions over whether Australia should continue to push for an independent probe into the origins of the virus.
"The relationship I see between the Australian people and the Chinese people is really one of a common heart,'' Mr Forrest replied.
"My priority is to see the pandemic come to an end so I'll be putting everything I can personally and as the foundation and as my businesses to remove the fear of this pandemic from the Australian people as quickly as possible."
Senior government sources said the hijack was not as bad as it looked.
"Looks like a very strong olive branch from China,'' the source said.
"Prepared and positive statement."
Earlier, Chen Hong, a professor, and director of the Australian Studies Center at East China Normal University also accused Australia or provoking the drama.
"This is not the first time that Canberra has attempted to lead a panda-bashing campaign,'' he said.
"We still remember that in 2018, Morrison's predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, fired the world's first shot at Huawei by imposing a blanket ban on its 5G equipment, and lobbied a number of Western countries to follow suit.
"While the rest of the world is actively joining forces and pooling resources to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Morrison administration is spearheading this malicious campaign to frame and incriminate China with groundless conjecture and outlandish fabrications."
He also accused Australia of starting a "blame game that amounts to pointing a finger at the victim".
"Consequently, Chinese and other Asians in Australia have become a vulnerable target of racial discrimination and hate crimes,'' he said.
"Based on unsubstantiated anecdotes and hearsay, Australia has been spreading preposterous lies accusing China of opening wet markets trading in wildlife across the country. Sensational tales, which are far from reality, are being told by media shock jocks and some politicians, who allege that bats are on menus in restaurants in China. This nonsense is stigmatising the Chinese community and the Chinese way of life.
"This is an all-out crusade against China and Chinese culture, led by Australia, which has worked hard in the past to become a comprehensive strategic partner of China."
Asked about the "panda-bashing" gibe today, the Prime Minister said Australia remained committed to an independent inquiry into the origins of the virus.
"Well, Australia will, of course, continue to pursue what is a very reasonable and sensible course of action,'' he said.
"This is a virus that has taken more than 200,000 lives across the world. It has shut down the global economy. The implications and impacts of this are extraordinary. Now, it would seem entirely reasonable and sensible that the world would want to have an independent assessment of how this all occurred, so we can learn the lessons and prevent it from happening again. I don't think this is a remarkable suggestion."
China has warned Australia it will retaliate against "petty tricks'' as the diplomatic war continues over Scott Morrison's calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of the virus.
The leaking of a private discussion between Australia's top diplomat Frances Adamson and the Chinese ambassador has sparked another unusual tit-for-tat statement this morning.
"The Q&A of the Embassy Spokesperson in the afternoon of 28 April was a legitimate response to the earlier breach of diplomatic protocol by the Australian side,'' a Chinese Government spokesman said.
"The report on the phone call between the Chinese Ambassador and DFAT secretary first appeared on Australian media. The phone call itself, as well as the content of the conversation, was obviously leaked by some Australian officials.
"As the Australian media report was inaccurate and misleading, the Embassy had no choice but to set the record straight.
"The Embassy of China doesn't play petty tricks, this is not our tradition. But if others do, we have to reciprocate."