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Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, described the list – which includes complaints about Australia’s Huawei ban, local media coverage, foreign investment restrictions, critical think-tank reports and MPs speaking out on human rights – as a “wake up call” to other nations. The former solider said the British Government viewed the release of the documents as “an extremely aggressive act – because it is one”.
China is angry. If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy
Chinese government official
Mr Tugendhat said Boris Johnson was “well aware” of the dossier of grievances, which he said “were an attempt to undermine our own liberty too”.
He told Australia’s 9News: “It’s a pretty clear statement to everybody that if you cross China, and indeed the way that the Australian government did by standing up for a fellow democracy in Taiwan at the World Health Organisation, standing up for public health, standing up for openness, standing up for the truth, you are likely to meet a pretty hard response.”
Mr Tugendhat said Britain was “right next door, standing shoulder to shoulder in standing up for democracy in an increasingly authoritarian world”.
The document, which also accused Australia of interfering in Chinese sovereignty through critical statements on Taiwan, Hong Kong, the South China Sea and Xinjiang, has stunned Western governments.
The White House is expected to use the list to “rally allied support” to take a tougher stance against Beijing.
US Ambassador to Australia Arthur B Culvahouse Jr accused the Chinese government of interference.
He said: “That sort of interference I don’t think you would see the United States engage in.”
Richard McGregor, a senior fellow with the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, has warned other democracies should to take note of Beijing’s behaviour as they could be the next target.
Writing in the FT, he said: “The message is clear. If your media is overly critical, if your think-tanks produce negative reports, if your MPs persist in criticism, if you probe Communist party influence in your community and politics and if you don’t allow Chinese state and private companies into your market, and so on, you will be vulnerable to Beijing’s retribution as well.
“It provides an illuminating road map for a future in which a powerful China demands that its political system be respected and its human rights record stays beyond foreign scrutiny.”
Relations between Australia and Beijing soured when Canberra demanded an international probe into origins of the COVID-19 pandemic which was first reported in Wuhan last December.
China responded by slapping trade bans on a wide range of Australian exports including wine, beef, timber, barley and coal.
Australia has tried to play down the scale of the rift and said it wanted a “happy coexistence” with its largest trading partner.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged “undeniable tensions” but said they were based on “some misunderstandings.”
He told a virtual conference: “Our end result from Australia’s point of view is not containment, our end result is happy coexistence, respecting each other’s sovereignty and systems.
“Australia desires an open, transparent and mutually beneficial relationship with China as our largest trading partner, where there are strong people-to-people ties, complementary economies and a shared interest especially in regional development and wellbeing.”
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Beijing appears less conciliatory despite the international outcry sparked by its message to Australia.
A Canberra-based Chinese official said: “China is angry. If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy.”
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