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As Australia backs off from BRI, China uses Weibo and Global Times as revenge

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There was a time when China called Australia ‘chewing gum stuck at the sole of its shoes’. However, now, Australia has given China a dose of its own medicine.

The Australian government has torn up a deal between the state of Victoria and Xi Jinping’s superhighway to world power — the belt and road initiative.

Australia consists of six self-administered states which means they have their own constitutions and legislatures, and they also have the powers to sign deals with foreign governments.

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So the state of Victoria —which also happens to be a major financial hub in Australia — had signed a memorandum of understanding with China for investments via the belt and road initiative.

For Victoria, this deal meant considerable economic benefits and for Beijing, it meant an economic foothold on Australian soil.

However, the Scott Morrison government found this arrangement in conflict with national interest as Beijing and Canberra have been clashing on multiple fronts. There’s an ongoing faceoff over the origin of the deadly coronavirus. There is an ongoing diplomatic spat over a crackdown on Australians and disputes over Chinese sanctions on Australian products.

The bilateral ties are at their lowest point ever, so the Australian government has scrapped Victoria’s decision to join the BRI. The deal has been overruled through new veto legislation which was introduced in the Australian parliament last year.

“The foreign relations act that our government put in place was designed to protect our national interests by ensuring that there were no other agreements entered into by any other level of government that would conflict with Australia’s national interest. And so what we’ve done is we’ve followed through and there have been four agreements that the foreign minister has terminated in line with that foreign relations act – that power that we were able to attract from the parliament,” said Scott Morrison.

 China responded with threats and bluster. “The decision is unreasonable & provocative. It is bound to bring further damage to bilateral relations, and will only end up hurting itself,” the Chinese embassy in Australia said.

The embassy branded the move as ‘unreasonable & provocative’ and says this decision is bound to bring further damage and that Australia will only end up hurting itself.

Meanwhile, the Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing has labelled the move as ‘reckless interference’ and has expressed its “strong dissatisfaction”.

“The Australian federal government has no reason to cancel the belt & road cooperation agreement between the Victoria state government and the Chinese government. This brings reckless interference and damage to our regular exchanges and cooperation. This severely harms China-Australian relations and mutual trust. China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to this. China has already lodged solemn representations with Australia. China reserves the right to take further action,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, said.

As China says that they reserve the right to “take further action”, so far the action seems to be restricted to social media fury and much of it is fueled by Beijing’s propaganda machine.

Anti-Australia hashtags have been flying like missiles as Weibo users have been let loose. They’re calling Australia mad, undignified, and a lackey of America.

The Australian strategic policy institute reviewed these Weibo posts and conclude that the virality of the hashtag is being driven by Chinese propagandists. Most of the posts happen to be from state media accounts.

Meanwhile, the Global Times is doing its bit by attributing its headlines to anonymous observers and warning Australia of serious consequences.

However, Australia says it won’t budge in the face of these threats and will continue to act in the national interest and will do whatever it takes to maintain a free and open indo-pacific.

“We will always act in Australia’s national interest to protect Australia, but to also ensure that we can advance our national interests of a free and open indo-pacific and a world that seeks a balance in favour of freedom,” Morrison said.

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