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Shouting down a host country’s Indigenous welcome to country ceremony is diplomacy gone mad. While this may not be the most detailed analytical description of what transpired in Perth on 1 May at the little-known Kimberley Process (a multilateral initiative combating the conflict diamond trade), adjectives like brazen, outlandish, disrespectful or uncouth, just don’t seem adequate.
What has been reported (in news and social media) is this: at the opening session of the Kimberley Process the Chinese delegation used their microphone to shout over the welcome to country ceremony and the introduction for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who was about to take the stage. The Chinese delegation disrupted the event to protest the attendance of a group from Taiwan who, as in previous years, was a ‘guest of the chair’ (Australia). Following subsequent disruptions and objections later in the morning, by both Chinese and African delegates, the Chair withdraw the invitation to the Taiwanese, who then left. The event then resumed.
Beyond the initial drama, this international incident throws up a number of issues that deserve further consideration.
How to lose friends but influence people
China’s soft power has been on the rise in Australia. China developed a lead over Japan for the first time in the 2016 Lowy Institute poll when Australians were asked to identify ‘Australia’s best friend in Asia’. In answering the question ‘which relationship do you think is more important to Australia?’, Australians put the US and China neck-and-neck (43% of respondents each) – only two years previously China trailed the US by 11 percentage points. The poll also revealed that Australian attitudes towards Chinese people, China’s culture, history and economy were overwhelmingly positive.
But Australians are uncomfortable with the Chinese Communist Party, with 73% of poll respondents answering that they see ‘China’s system of government’ as a negative influence on their overall view of China. The appalling behaviour of the Chinese delegation in Perth will only further cement such feelings. The Chinese embassy in Canberra should pray that audio and video of what transpired never appears online.
Shocking but not surprising
The aggressive diplomatic coercion by the Chinese officials in Perth happens around the world. Last year this video featuring the Queen gave us an insight into the behind-the-scenes difficulties the UK Government encountered leading up to President Xi Jinping’s state visit. At the 2010 Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) meeting in Vanuatu, Chinese officials (annoyed by a minor reference to Taiwan in the PIF communiqué) became physical with their hosts. Often these incidents don’t make news, but in a time of social media and camera phones, that is changing.
To read the entire article by Danielle Cave, visit the Lowy Institute website.