Why does China have to apologize for Australia's crimes?

By Tom Fowdy
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, December 5, 2020
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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a press conference at the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, March 12, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

This week has been beholden by controversy after a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman posted a digital illustration on his personal Twitter account depicting an Australian soldier holding a young boy under a blanket with a knife in one hand. The image was accompanied by the caption, "We are here to bring you peace," in reference to an inquiry into Canberra's war crimes in Afghanistan, a near 20-year conflict it has been engaged in along with the United States and other allies. 

Despite the fact that the report was built upon the testimonies of hundreds of witnesses and the incident depicted in the image was factually accurate, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reacted with outrage and demanded China apologize, describing the image as "fake."

First of all, the image, created by a Weibo artist, was not fake at all in what it depicted, nor was it factually misleading or exaggerated. Those pressing the accusation have failed to demonstrate why, or what their problem is. If one turns to Page 121 of the war crimes inquiry report, it specifies in its own words that Australian soldiers did indeed kill innocent, unarmed civilians, including young boys, by slitting their throats. Yet Australia's politicians and the mainstream media not only fail to confront this reality, but pretend this is somehow an act of deception by China and that they themselves are victims of Beijing's "aggression."

Why does China have to apologize to Australia for something that Australia itself committed? What kind of justice or bizarre arrangement is this? In making these demands, Canberra does not confront its own ill deeds, or as fellow spokesperson Hua Chunying suggested, engage in "soul searching." Instead, Australia projects the belief that China has no legitimate right to criticize it, while also lacking any actual empathy for what it has done. 

The issue at the heart of this debate is not whether Australia should apologize to Afghanistan for its own actions or ask for their views, but that Australia should affirm criticism of its armed forces for this moral outrage – something which apparently remains off-limits to countries such as China.

Australian politicians and media believe they have the unreserved right to criticize China every day, even if their claims are false, misleading or slanderous. It is precisely these things that have led to such a deterioration in relations between Canberra and Beijing. Every day, newspapers in Australia have depicted China with suspicion, paranoia and as a subversive threat. In Canberra, foreign policy has been quick to follow and support Trump's actions against China. Yet despite all this, the mindset still persists that actions apparently do not have consequences. If China criticizes Australia, it is because China is bad – not because Canberra has done anything wrong – and therefore it is China who should apologize. 

China has not done anything wrong at all; it has merely put its head above the parapet to criticize a country which believes itself beyond reproach. Australia's commitment to the American war machine is not to be questioned, not least by a country which Australia believes it has the right to criticize, but which cannot criticize it. This inequality in sense of self-perception and status thus creates the bizarre logic demonstrated by the suggestion that China should apologize for highlighting the crimes of another country, which despite being completely factual, are derided as fake and deceptive.

It is hard to believe that Australia is happy to profit existentially from a country it otherwise appears to despise so much, and yet conversely complain when that country makes a statement of protest against it by placing tariffs on their exports.

Ultimately, all China wants in its relationship with Australia is to be treated as an equal. It is not looking to interfere in the country's politics or trying to subvert or infiltrate any institution; it is merely asking that Canberra respect its core interests and its national sovereignty. Learning to co-exist with Beijing does not mean that Canberra cannot have differences or disagreements with China, but rather that it conducts its relationship in a stable manner and does not react with contempt at the consequences of burning its own bridges. 

Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain and the U.S. For more information please visit: 


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