‘Wolf warrior’ Zhao Lijian’s claim Australia runs concentration camps on Manus Island illustrate Beijing’s self-delusion.
If he had deliberately set out to make a fool of himself and the regime he represented, senior Chinese “wolf warrior” Zhao Lijian could not have done better than claim Australia had been operating concentration camps on Manus Island. Nothing could be more absurd or demonstrably further from the truth.
Neither can anything more comprehensively symbolise the dangerous self-delusion and unrelenting belligerence that underpins Beijing’s every response as it mindlessly lashes out at Australia and launches unbridled onslaughts against countries across the world.
As Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings said: “Here we have a country aspiring to global leadership which is just slinging insults and abuse around the place, in the spot where there used to be diplomacy.”
Geoff Chambers and Joe Kelly reported on Thursday that as of last month the number of refugees and asylum-seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru had fallen to 240, with 960 people resettled in the US, Cambodia and other countries since 2015. Of those asylum-seekers and refugees still on the islands, almost all are living in Port Moresby and Nauru communities. The Manus Island processing centre was closed in 2017. The Nauru processing centre does not house any asylum-seekers at present.
Yet in the weird and fanciful world of Mr Zhao’s blatant lies and concocted disinformation targeted against Australia and Australians, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Information Department deputy director would have the world believe “tens of thousands of people from war-torn countries” have been accommodated in concentration camps. “The Australian government built detention centres on the Manus Island, which ‘accommodates’ tens of thousands of people from war-torn countries. The concentration camps, as some critics call it, are still in operation,” he tweeted on Wednesday in response to global outrage over China’s appalling treatment of its Uighur minority. He also used a Lowy Institute report to assert “almost one in five Chinese Australians have been physically threatened or attacked in the past year because of their heritage”.
Meanwhile, as we report on Friday, Mr Zhao’s colleague Hua Chunying doubled down on the vilification, targeting Foreign Minister Marise Payne for expressing the Morrison government’s “grave concern” about “severe human rights” abuses against ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. Ms Hua raised issues about alleged Australian war crimes in Afghanistan, White Australia policy, the Stolen Generations and treatment of Indigenous people. Australia, she declared, was ignoring its own problems while groundlessly accusing China “on the basis of lies, rumours and disinformation” about the Uighurs. She warned “the Chinese people are not to be trifled with … once they are provoked to anger, things can get very tough”.
The politically ambitious Mr Zhao (self-evidently, he is no career diplomat) has form: he was the facilitator of last November’s outrageous fabricated image of an Australian soldier allegedly slitting the throat of a young Afghan girl. That was soon after he boorishly warned members of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing group (the US, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) that “if they dare to harm China’s sovereignty, they should be aware of their eyes being poked out and blinded”. He has been similarly offensive against the likes of Susan Rice, Barack Obama’s former national security adviser.
On Thursday, his Beijing propaganda machine was again in full flight abusing the 27 EU nations, Britain and Canada, lashing out at them as China imposed unprecedented travel and trade bans on members of parliament, academics, ambassadors and think tanks that dared to criticise China over the Uighurs. EU officials said the Chinese response threatened the future of the big, freshly negotiated EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment that was supposed to be the cornerstone of future relations.
There is little that can pass for diplomatic normalcy about Mr Zhao’s deliberate lies and abuse and those of others speaking on behalf of President Xi Jinping’s despotic communist regime. Confronted by the rising tide of Chinese abuse and aggression, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg was right in Brussels to pledge the strong support for Australia of the 30-nation military alliance that is the West’s most powerful military grouping. Mr Zhao’s lies represent a challenge the world must confront. As Mr Stoltenberg said: “It is important that we demonstrate that we are able to stand together when we see China trying to bully countries all over the world.”