ANALYSIS

Disinformation is the name of the game for China

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has pinned the tweet which sparked a diplomatic row to the top of his Twitter profile page. Picture: Getty Images
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has pinned the tweet which sparked a diplomatic row to the top of his Twitter profile page. Picture: Getty Images

Chinese senior official Zhao Lijian has pinned his offensive and dishonest tweet to the top of his profile page.

If Prime Minister Scott Morrison is looking for a preview of what sort of apology Australia can expect from China through diplomatic channels, he's got a response already.

Other senior Chinese officials have also defended the image as a "popular cartoon" about Australia's self-initiated investigation into evidence of war crimes.

It follows the Chinese government issuing tariffs by another name, ostensibly to protect Chinese wine producers from Australian dumping.

It follows mysterious, uniform hold-ups of Australian goods at Chinese ports to the point of spoilage, and denials that the events were co-ordinated.

It follows the Chinese government accusing Australia of deviating from promises in trade agreements, and "flagrantly [violating] the basic norms of international relations with provocative words and deeds on issues concerning China's core interests".

It follows Chinese state media declaring Australia is responsible for the decline of the China-US relationship, due to "Morrison's reckless provocation".

It follows China's claims that COVID-19 may have originated in Italy.

Those are just some of the disinformation it pushes on matters outside its own borders.

Many will theorise as to what China wants out of these escalating actions. It's fair to say Australia's relationship with China is worsening, but it's even more obvious that Australia will not be spared China's now-routine approach of spreading disinformation to further its political objectives.

Australia can't continue to play friends with China while copping this sort of interference in a domestic criminal investigation. Scott Morrison called it a "terrible slur", but it's also muddying a real process, which could lead to real criminal charges, with disinformation.

Clausewitz may have coined the maxim that war is politics by other means, but there's another applicable maxim: that nations are always preparing for fighting the last war.

All nations, Australia included, will need a transparency and truth-telling strategy to combat relentless state-supported disinformation campaigns.

This story Disinformation is the name of the game for China first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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