Thursday 28th of January 2021

the uncomfortable fact the report had found credible evidence...

Hook, line and sinker: China threw the cast and Scott Morrison fell for it


On 4 December 2020

As someone who has been associated with the Sydney Morning Herald  for more than 50 years as a cadet, reporter, correspondent, leader writer, foreign editor and still occasional contributor, I can’t think of a lower level of commentary ever run in the newspaper.

Caught with trousers down?

When Scott Morrison learned about the now notorious Tweet of the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, he wasted little time, just 45 minutes, in assembling Canberra’s media pack to vent his outrage at this slur on the reputation of every Australian who’d ever put on the uniform.

As Morrison was still in quarantine from his Japan visit, his press conference had to be done by video link. The camera did not reveal if Morrison had put on his suit pants for the occasion. Carefully curated photos had earlier shown him getting around the Lodge in Zoom dress – shirt and coat on top, boxers and thongs below. But it was a case of a lie getting half way round the world before truth has time to put on its trousers.

The image posted by Zhao was clearly a graphic artist’s Photoshop montage, the kind not unknown in our media, meant to shock, but not the “fake” that Morrison and many reporters took it to be. And the Prime Minister was overlooking the uncomfortable fact the Brereton report had found credible evidence that some of our soldiers had cut the throats of Afghan 14-year-old boys, if not a small girl cuddling a pet lamb.

But it immediately sucked airtime from the previous news in China relations, that last Saturday the $1.4 billion wine export trade had been scuppered by tariffs up to 212 per cent, coal ships were idle outside Chinese ports, and China’s punishment of Australia on Morrison’s watch was now getting up past $21 billion a year. Maybe that was Morrison’s snap calculation, as federal parliament convened for its last session of the year. Morrison’s attempt to rectify the fiasco on China’s WeChat online forum was of course blocked.

Rising to the bait

Well down in the coverage was any discussion whether Morrison had been wise to play it the way he did. The Lowy Institute’s Hervé Lemahieu was not the lead in the story by Eryk Bagshaw and Anthony Galloway in the Sydney Morning Herald with his comment that Morrison should not have been the one to respond.

“We shouldn’t deploy our top asset – head of government – to respond to a propaganda post from some junior level official in the Chinese Foreign Ministry,” Lemahieu said. “These guys seek attention and we have given it to them,” Mr Lemahieu said. “That [the tariffs] is the big story, and to me it looks like they are trying to switch the subjects and make Australia look like the villain. We shouldn’t have fallen for it.”

Damien Spry, an expert on social media in Asia at the University of South Australia, wrote on Lowy’s The Interpreter website that Australia had now joined a list of those China’s “wolf warrior” diplomat in chief Zhao had deliberately provoked. “By reacting with fury we’ve done what a troll would hope,” Spry said. “Internet trolling referred originally not to beasts under bridges but to a fishing term – to cast a line and entice prey to hook themselves. By demanding an apology from the Chinese government and saying they should be ashamed, we’ve taken the bait.”

If it’s not “secret” it’s not news

Canberra’s intelligence community has meanwhile discovered that much of the Chinese-language media in Australia has been taken over by Beijing-aligned interests, and pushes the line of the Chinese Communist Party. As reporter Kate Wong noted in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age yesterday, these outlets have poured scorn on Morrison over his response to the tweet.

The Office of National Intelligence, recently handed over from Nick Warner to Andrew Shearer, had “confidentially briefed” the government about this, the Sydney Morning Herald–Age journalist Nick McKenzie and colleagues report, citing “official sources who could not be identified because they were not authorised to speak”.

These sound like the same kind of sources who tipped McKenzie off to the impending raid on NSW state upper house member Shaoquet Mouselmane, allowing McKenzie to be outside the MP’s house with a camera crew when ASIO and the Federal Police arrived.

All hush-hush. But hang on, this report on Chinese language media was compiled by the ONI’s Open Source Centre, which “collects, interprets and disseminates” non-classified material “of political, strategic or economic significance to Australia”, has analysed 20 months of content from 14 online Chinese-language news sites and 10 popular WeChat sites. It has also checked ownership structures and Communist Party links.

So all based on open sources and public records, with findings that seem to repeat and corroborate the findings of academics like UTS communications specialist Wanning Sun. Why the secrecy, except perhaps to make it more newsworthy for those getting the leak?

And as for answering academic John Fitzgerald’s question at the end of the news report – what do we do about it – it seems Morrison’s government is leaving it to the US State Department and Falun Gong to set up a counter Chinese-language campaign, as we have noted previously.

We should also keep in mind that the CCP’s efforts to control the diaspora’s information flow is not primarily aimed at interfering in Australia, but preventing the diaspora becoming a base for subversion of the Chinese system. Former ambassador Geoff Raby, spruiking his new book China’s Grand Strategy and Australia’s Future in the New Global Order, reminds us that Qing dynasty was undermined by Sun Yat-sen and other exiles in Japan.

Winners and grinners

In these difficult moments, Morrison has gained vocal support from various Tory backbenchers in Britain and US Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio, and strangely New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, but very few from Asian friends. Amanda Hodge for The Australian did the rounds of Southeast Asian foreign ministries to find a few words of support for Morrison. No response, except for Taiwan and the Philippines. The region had been “scared into silence by Beijing’s aggression” said the headline.

Anthony Albanese and Labor colleagues were meanwhile slapped down by The Australian for suggesting Morrison’s handling of China had worsened the trade picture. “As countries across the region that are threatened by Chinese bullying closely watch Australia’s standoff with Beijing, it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of our own leaders not saying or doing anything that plays into China’s hands,” it editorialised yesterday. “Anything that suggests we are divided as a nation in our response to Beijing would do just that. Bipartisanship, not party political point-scoring and ill-timed criticism, is vital if Beijing’s destructive belligerence is to be successfully confronted.”

The paper’s Canberra correspondents Simon Benson and Ben Packham weighed in with comment pieces condemning Albo for breaking ranks. Columnist Niki Savva started out playing with the Gareth Evans analysis ran on this website that Morrison had been too strident, but veered back to safe News Corp territory by quoting ASPI’s Peter Jennings: such criticism was just another version of “shut up and take the money”. Business could wean itself off China in five years if it wanted to diversify, Jenning said, not mentioning that would be about the time it would take China to diversify out of Australian iron ore by opening up Guinea’s Simandou deposit.

Schlock and awe from Hartcher

In the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday, international editor Peter Hartcher  said that if Zhao was supposed to be a Wolf Warrior diplomat he was “obviously no diplomat. And as for wolf warrior, it’s more like schlock monger.”

“Did Zhao or his masters stop to think of the effect that this might have?” Hartcher asked. “Is this really going to pressure Australia into yielding? It won’t, of course. It’s entirely counterproductive to Beijing’s cause. It only exposes Xi’s regime as thugs and grubs, rallies Australians around their government and hardens Australia’s resolve. It’s the clearest sign yet of desperation in Beijing.”

Taking it lower

A week earlier, Nine News political editor Chris Uhlmann had also put Zhao Lijian in his place over his list of grievances against Australia, later expanded to 14 by the Chinese embassy and handed to a Canberra reporter.

“What China is demanding of Australia is that it give up its sovereignty and shut up forever,” Uhlmann thundered in his regular oped, reluctantly published by the SMH and The Age by mandate of their new management.

“While some university chiefs and some business executives might be taking this list and checking it twice for potential moments of self-enriching obeisance, no Australian government can seriously consider any of it. If we swallowed this set of demands, do you imagine it would be the last? What do you want your children and grandchildren to concede?

“When Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian laid all blame for the poor relationship at Australia’s door, he intoned: ‘Whoever hung the bell [on the tiger’s neck] must untie it.’ This invites Australia to mine its own vast cultural heritage and respond in kind. Given I don’t have to worry about trying to reboot a relationship with a country that has the temperament of a toddler, let’s go with: ‘Take your list and stick it where the sun don’t shine.’”

As someone who has been associated with the Sydney Morning Herald for more than 50 years as a cadet, reporter, correspondent, leader writer, foreign editor and still occasional contributor, I can’t think of a lower level of commentary ever run in the newspaper.


Read more:

getting crumbs from china's growth....


Yet the two nations cannot avoid each other and can't live as they are without each other.

China has powered its economy with Australian resources, especially iron ore and coal.

Australia has grown rich off China's growth. It is by a long way our biggest trading partner. And if China turns on us, ordinary Australians hurt — just ask wine makers or crayfish farmers.

One in five Australian jobs depend on exports. As much as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the Australian consumer is the backbone of the economy, people can't spend if they are unemployed.

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ScoMo is like a cartoon character that behaves like a cartoon character...

the local gallery of drongoes...

Playing to the local gallery on crimes in Afghanistan


By JACK WATERFORD | On 8 December 2020

It’s hard to escape the feeling that most of the heat and light generated by Scott Morrison’s fury at a cartoon by a middle-level Chinese tiger cub was designed for Australian, rather than Chinese, consumption. Regardless, it could be a dangerous strategy. 

Had Morrison wanted any movement in our direction from the Chinese, it is unlikely he would have “demanded” an apology he must have known would never come. Indeed he must have known that the form of his protest could only lead China’s senior leadership to double down.

Could a worsening of the trading relationship — or merging an increasingly tense economic dispute with the US-China tussle over power and influence in south-east and north Asia — be in Australia’s interest?

Only if one had concluded, or knew, war between China and America was inevitable, or that China had determined on a major breach of the regional peace, for example by the invasion of Taiwan, the unleashing of North Korea, or the complete incorporation of Hong Kong.

After any of these, relationships could never be the same again. Anything is possible, I suppose, not least with the Trump legacy in the US.

But it is hard to see why Australia is moving so decisively towards the front. We are not seeing this behaviour from Japan, South Korea or India, let alone by any of those of the nations of South East Asia who view Chinese expansion — if and when it occurs — with trepidation. It is even more difficult to understand our apparent compulsion to spit in the Chinese face.

It is that compulsion, rather than our stout defence of human rights, that seems to have caused China to show its displeasure through trade punishment.  We are, on the one hand, regarded by them as a pipsqueak in international affairs, with little in the way of a moral stump allowing us to lecture them, least of all about human rights. We are also,  on the other, an ungrateful nation that has benefited enormously from privileged access to trade trade with China, in a way that has worked to benefit both countries.

Our recent prosperity has been tied to China’s rise — whether in iron ore, coal and other mineral exports or as a premium destination for Chinese students and tourism. China never initially complained strongly that Australia was closely allied, in defence terms, to the US, though it often chided us for meekly supporting American trade grievances, or posturing in North Asia, as being directly against our own interests.

China has increasingly been signalling its displeasure by arbitrary cuts to trade in particular goods — cuts that hurt Australia far more than China. That might be described as bullying — a little less convincingly as part of a Chinese pattern of dealing with any country that displeases it. It may be one thing to be determined not to be bullied, or to be seen to be bullied. It may also be important that Australia show that it has a continuing concern for human rights and democratic forms of government — concerns it will not lightly sacrifice on the altar of trade. It is another thing altogether to go on picking new fights and inviting fresh forms of retaliation. This is what the Morrison government appears to be intent on doing.

The tweet “meme” — whatever that means — seems to have invited a conga line of loyalty oaths, and claims that “my outrage exceeds thine” from all who engage in such lemming-like activities — including, predictably, the Labor leadership. It seemed to take Labor, in particular, a while to wonder whether over-egging the outrage pudding was really in Australia’s interests.

Meanwhile, Morrison seemed to keep raising the ante. If I were China, I would not have apologised, but congratulated myself on the arrow hitting the bulls eye. Morrison, indeed, seemed to start playing both sides of the fence, calling for a resumption of ordinary trade and of civilities even as he was making it impossible. It was even seeming to dawn on Coalition figures, from the Treasurer down, that the short and medium term of any escalation would be disastrous to the economy.

That’s the risk of unforced error when playing diplomacy in the Twittersphere. If he felt he had to say something, lest he be damned for silence, he should have waited until he could condemn the tweet in more moderate and non-threatening terms, as a comment on a more hysterical response by another.

The past fortnight has seen a good many usually cynical political journalists rally around the flag, understanding at last that the Chinese are beastly, that there is no long term reasoning with them, and that we may as well take the tough medicine — of reducing our dependence on the Chinese economy — sooner rather than later. Perhaps they are getting privileged briefings that have inspired such conversions, but if so, those explanations must be confidential.

John Howard was the first of any number of coalition leaders to understand that Australia did not have to choose between China and the United States — and nothing much has happened over the past five years to materially change that. The idea that we must choose sides, and the notion that China is now suddenly more dangerous to us, is an ideologically led, not evidence-led, conclusion.  The threat is that ideologues, most not open to any form of public account, have an enormous capacity to cause the fulfillment of their own prophecies.

The latest deterioration in the relationship began when prime minister Malcolm Turnbull decided that the Chinese telecommunications provider Huawei could not participate in the 5G rollout, and otherwise instituted a more suspicious and transactional business relationship. The Chinese irritation seemed to be aggravated by a feeling that Australia was playing pig in the minefield for a more general “five-eyes”  isolation of Huawei, and a belief that Australian commercial policy over China was too much influenced by Australia’s perception of a need to march in close step with the United States, even when our interests differed.

The latter perception was becoming more of a problem because President Trump was becoming increasingly protectionist and isolationist, and blaming China’s economic success for the loss of American manufacturing jobs. Trade war, with the imposition of American tariffs, and Chinese retaliatory  tariffs saw both sides posture about the threat from each other if the struggle for hegemony in the western Pacific and the South China Sea, became war. But it has never seemed that war was inevitable, that either nation could “win” or, indeed, that conflict was going to be binary. A growing China was investing in its own defence. So have most of its neighbours. And Australia.

 It is not clear that the worsening has been the horse or the cart, but we have suddenly seen an explosion of folk agitating for action, or pontificating about the new-found dangers of appeasement. Some of these folk have discovered, mostly recently, that China is a totalitarian nation, notionally communist, which oppresses many of its subjects, including Tibetans and Uighurs. Moreover, it has systems of mass surveillance that our Department of Home Affairs envies and plans to copy.

China constantly threatens two of its prodigal provinces, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and gave not-so-secret encouragement to North Korea and Iran. These discoveries, assisted by generous US sponsorship of the “independent” think tanks publishing this research and spruiking war, came generally from scholars hitherto blasé about human rights generally, and still deeply unconcerned by their absence among allies and customers such as Saudi Arabia.

Expect in due course further Chinese journalism on our treatment of minorities, including First Nations people, our international actions in nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam, on missions almost impossible to describe, but certainly unachieved. Our history of marching to American military music, after a century of marching to British music. Our history of racism and exclusion of Asians. And other military atrocities, back to Breaker Morant.

None of this may be news to most Australians. Or about anything of which Scott Morrison is ashamed. But wrapped up in a Chinese marketing effort to vilify and discredit Australia to its own population and a wider Asia, it could generate and justify inspired consumer revolts against Australian goods, a turning away from Australian education, and a rejection of any idea that we are a citizen of the region. I think the Morrison government should be more open with its strategy.


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Waterford is giving too much credit to ScoMo. He's dumb (Scomo that is).


See also: 

welcolme to the cockroaches overlord...

carry on digging...

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has warned the world is watching as China picks off more Australian export markets one by one.

Cotton and wheat farmers have been warned they could be next after China extended sanctions on Australian timber and slapped new ones on lamb.

Honey and pharmaceutical producers could also be targeted as the trade dispute continues to spiral.

Senator Birmingham said China had displayed an unacceptable pattern of behaviour this year that undermined its free trade deal with Australia and flouted global commitments to the World Trade Organisation.

“Australia is not the only country that has seen these types of punitive measures and I expect the rest of the world will be watching quite closely what is happening in Australia,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.

“This is damaging not just in terms of the business or trade relationship, but it is damaging in terms of heightening the level of risk and concern that businesses right around the world have in terms of dealing with China.

“It doesn’t just increase that risk profile for Australian businesses, it does so for everyone.”

Senator Birmingham said Australian exporters needed to balance risk and reward in their approach to China.

“Through the course of this year, unfortunately, the risk of trade with China has heightened considerably,” he said.

Many sectors are enjoying seeing record-breaking levels of trade despite the worsening Chinese dispute.

“But for others the risk has clearly grown, the barriers have been imposed, and our government has expressed deep dissatisfaction about it directly to China and publicly here in Australia,” Senator Birmingham said.

“We will pursue every possible remedy we can on behalf of fair, honest hard-working Australian industries.”

China has imposed sanctions and restrictions against Australian barley, wine, meat, lobsters and coal in recent months as diplomatic relations sink to new lows.

The Chinese government is furious about Australia’s calls for an investigation into the origins of coronavirus, its vocal criticism of human rights abuses, and the imposition of foreign investment and interference laws.

IBISWorld said it expected Australian mining commodity exports, including iron ore, would likely be safe from any potential trade restrictions.

But in a research note released on Tuesday, it said agricultural and pharmaceutical manufacturers could be next affected by the souring relationship between the two countries.

-with AAP


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sold for one dollar to the chinese...

A training college for China Southern Airlines pilots operating from Perth’s Jandakot Airport has gone into voluntary liquidation, with more than 60 local staff losing their jobs.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting closure of borders was a contributing factor to the ongoing viability of the business,” liquidator Grant Thornton Australia said in a statement.

Grant Thornton Australia said all 62 staff were sacked when it was appointed liquidator of China Southern West Australian Flying College on Monday.

However, it said all staff members were expected to receive their full entitlements, based on a preliminary assessment.

The liquidator is now looking to sell the company’s 37 aircraft and Merredin Airport, 260 kilometres east of Perth, which the local shire sold to China Southern Airlines for $1 in 1995.

The airline then spent more than $1 million upgrading the airstrip for use as part of the training college and also as a public airport.

While the liquidator looks at options for a sale, the airport will remain open.


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underwater quiet spies?...

Indonesian fishermen have discovered a suspected Chinese submarine drone in waters considered strategically important to Australia.


Key points:
  • The unmanned underwater vehicle was reportedly found just before Christmas near Indonesia's Selayar Island
  • Security experts say the high-tech unpowered surveillance drone is known as a glider and relies on variable-buoyancy propulsion
  • The captured drone reportedly gathers oceanographic data including temperature, turbidity, salinity, chlorophyll and oxygen levels


Images published in local media show Indonesian military officers posing with the unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), which was found just before Christmas near Selayar Island in South Sulawesi.

The UUV was recovered from the water by a local fisherman on December 20, but was only reported to authorities six days later.

Security experts say the high-tech unpowered surveillance drone is known as a glider and relies on variable-buoyancy propulsion.

One official told the ABC the discovery is noteworthy because the UUV was seized in the middle of a crucial maritime route linking the South China Sea to Australia's northernmost city of Darwin.

According to Indonesian media, the captured drone is 225cm in length, with a 50cm wingspan and a 93cm-long trailing antenna.


Read more:


New Versions of the Seaglider AUV

Both new glider systems are based in part on the original, proven Seaglider™ design. The first vehicle, Deepglider 6M Seaglider, is designed for operation to a maximum of 6000 meters. This capability is unique in the world of underwater gliders, and will allow the system to completely profile over 97% of the world’s oceans.

The second vehicle, Oculus C2 Seaglider, is specifically designed for high performance, shallow water operation. Oculus has an amazing amount of variable buoyancy – 3500 cc – which will allow it to operate from fresh water to sea water without the need to alter its static ballast. It is also capable of achieving horizontal speeds up to 2 knots. These capabilities will enable operations in areas of extreme density variation and high currents.


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Note that UUVs can be used by navies to listen to "enemy ships" noises, etc...



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