This week China took a sledgehammer to what was left of its relationship with Australia when a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman posted a tweet that set the world on fire.
Things hadn’t being going well between China and Australia for quite some time, but even by this year’s bizarre standards the gruesome image and Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s reaction to it, have pulled the two nations even further apart.
Professor Jane Golley from the Australian National University specialises in Sino-Australian relations and the Chinese economy.
She told news.com.au that the tweet could be seen as the next step after China leaked a bombshell dossier listing 14 reasons why it was “angry” at Australia in November.
She said the timing of the tweet is interesting given what has just happened across the Pacific – where Donald Trump, a US President who was hostile to China throughout his term, looks to be leaving the White House.
“China could have looked at the US election and decided that now is the time to signal to the rest of the world that if you treat Beijing like they perceive the way Australia has, you could be next in line,” she said.
However, she doesn’t believe that this is what was “top of China’s mind” when its government signed off on the now infamous tweet attacking Australia on Monday.
And, despite the commentary around the issue this week, she said the idea that this is all about Australia’s push for a COVID inquiry is misguided.
She believes the affair runs a lot deeper than simply to the confines of 2020, and that things really started to head south between Australia and China back in 2012.
It was then that a single Australian act planted a seed that has dogged the relationship ever since.
That year, we banned Chinese-owned tech giant Huawei from participating in the NBN due to concerns about cyber attacks.
Salt was rubbed in the wound again six years later when the Federal Government banned Huawei from taking part in the rollout of 5G mobile infrastructure, again over national security concerns.
In a paper to be published early next year, Prof Golley and her researchers found that these two incidents had a profoundly negative effect on our relationship with China.
But things took a another plunge after revelations of ASIO reports into foreign interference in 2017, which resulted in the introduction of a new Foreign Interference and Espionage Act in 2018.
“That’s one of the big ones,” Prof Golley said. “China were really unhappy with that.”
There were moments over the years where the perception was that things were getting slightly better, like when Mr Morrison met Xi Jinping at the G20 and APEC summits in 2019.
However, the overall trajectory showed that all was not well between the two nations and in 2020, as we all know, the proverbial really hit the fan.