2 December 2020

In vino veritas! Let’s stand up to China’s bullying by buying Australian wine

By

When your closest friends are being bullied for standing up for the values you share with them, it is right to do everything possible to stand up for them. And when they are paying a price for defending the truth, it is right to stand with them.

Australia is the canary in the coalmine for the free world. In recent months it has provoked the furious wrath of the Chinese Communist Party regime simply because the Australian government demanded an international inquiry into the causes of the pandemic. In and of itself, Beijing’s fury indicates Xi Jinping’s regime has something to hide.

Since then Australia has spoken against the destruction of Hong Kong’s freedoms, extending a lifeline to Hongkongers who wish to leave the city, suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and signing on to several joint statements with Britain’s Foreign Secretary and other governments in the Five Eyes security alliance. 

More widely it has legislated to tackle Chinese political interference on its shores, and taken a strong stand on China’s aggression in the South China Sea. One of its leading think-tanks, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), has published a series of reports about the complicity of Chinese corporations with atrocities against Uyghurs in Xinjiang province and the use of forced labour in global supply chains in China.

All of this has caused the increasingly aggressive and belligerent regime in Beijing to throw its weight around in fury. Of all the Five Eyes countries, Australia is most dependent on trade with China, with almost 40% of its exports going there. Australia is also strategically dependent on China for 595 different categories of goods.

China’s bullying of Australia has been increasing in recent years, but took on a whole new level of intensity this year when it slapped an 80% tariff on Australian barley imports, restricted coal imports and suspended meat imports from four of Australia’s largest meat producers.

All this is in total breach of China’s free trade agreement with Australia and its membership of the World Trade Organisation. But the bullies in Beijing continue to flout international agreements with impunity. Australia’s wine industry is the latest target, with China recently imposing crushing tariffs of over 200%.

That is why the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a cross-party, global coalition of over 200 parliamentarians from 19 different countries, has launched a new campaign to persuade consumers to buy Australian wine this month – with the help of an entertaining  promotionial video.

In the video, which features a host of MPs and deputies from all over the world, Australian Senator Kimberley Kitching describes China’s behaviour as an attempt “to bully us into abandoning our values”. It is, she argues powerfully “not just an attack on Australia, it’s an attack on free countries everywhere”. 

IPAC’s campaign, and the high-profile parliamentarians doing their bit, is an eye-catching example of the growing solidarity with Australia from around the world. As for supporting the Aussie wine industry, that was an idea first proposed by Times columnist Edward Lucas at the start of November.

He developed the idea in The Times a few days later, arguing that “the Chinese Communist Party wants to punish resistance and quell criticism everywhere in the world. Australia is the first target. If the attack succeeds, others will be next.”

This week the tensions between China and Australia descended even further when a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson posted a fake image on Twitter of an Australian special forces soldier slitting the throat of an Afghan child, its head wrapped in an Australian flag, a lamb in its arms. This grotesque twisting of the truth illustrates the mendacity and inhumanity not of the Australian armed forces – who are under investigation for crimes committed in Afghanistan – but of the Chinese Communist Party. While Australia’s troops are not perfect, as a rule of law based democracy there are mechanisms for investigation, accountability and justice for wrongdoing. What a contrast to China’s regime, which hides its crimes in Xinjiang, silences the whistle-blowers who warned of coronavirus, breaks its promises to Hong Kong and lies about the sources of its organ transplant industry – all with complete impunity.

It was therefore very welcome to see New Zealand and France speak up for Australia over China’s appalling so-called ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’. But free countries everywhere should do more than speak up for Australia. We should stand with Australia in practical ways, to shore up its economy and make sure that China’s trade war fails. It is in all our interests to do so – for our security, our values and our reputation.

If Australia buckles under Chinese pressure, it will send a terrible message to Beijing that it can continue to bully its way in the world – and we will be next. So join the fight for freedom by buying and drinking Aussie wine. In vino veritas!

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Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is the co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC). 

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.