China warns Australia ‘unwilling and afraid’ to face up to racism at home

China has blasted Australia as “unwilling and afraid” to own up to racism in the country and warned it needs to “face up to its problems” to protect Chinese nationals in Australia.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said during Thursday’s briefing that incidents of “discrimination and violence” in Australia had been widely reported and asked how Prime Minister Scott Morrison could be “confident” of the prospect it offered for tourists and international students.

“We advise Australia face up to its problems, do some soul-searching and take concrete measures to protect the safety, rights and interests of Chinese nationals in Australia,” she said.

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It came after Mr Morrison said it would be up to Chinese students if they wanted to come to Australia and the country would not respond to “coercion” – the first time he has used the word in the growing diplomatic spat between Beijing and Canberra.

“Australia provides the best tourism and education products in the world and I know that is compelling,” he said.

“We are an open-trade nation but I am never going to trade our values in response to coercion from wherever it comes.

“One thing Australia will always do is act in our national interest and never be intimidated by threats.”

It comes amid rising tension between China and Western allies including Australia and the US against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic that scientists believe originated in a Wuhan wetmarket.

China has bowed to pressure for an international inquiry into the source and origins of the pandemic, but seemingly punished Australia for initially proposing the idea through economic threats and tariffs.

Beijing’s Hua also rubbished a recent study from a team of Harvard and Boston University researchers that suggested satellite data from Wuhan hospitals could show the coronavirus appeared earlier than initially claimed.

The new paper by researchers at Boston University and Harvard — which has not been peer-reviewed — analysed photos of parking lots at Wuhan hospitals and search trends on the Chinese search engine Baidu.

The team led by Elaine Nsoesie at Boston University said they found “a steep increase in volume starting in August 2019” at Wuhan hospital parking lots, “culminating with a peak in December 2019.”

Calling the study “ridiculous”, Hua Chunying said it was “outrageously flawed” and based on “shoddy work”.

“This is new proof that some in the US are deliberately creating and disseminating disinformation against China, which should be unanimously condemned and rejected by the international community,” she said.

The authors said that while they could not definitively confirm that the data they documented was linked to the virus, it supported conclusions reached by other research suggesting that the virus began circulating earlier than the first reported cases at the end of 2019.

According to China’s official chronology of the pandemic, the first cases of COVID-19 were spotted by doctors in Wuhan in December and they shared the genome sequence with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in early January.

Imperial College London, in collaboration with the WHO, has also traced the virus’ family tree, estimating that it appeared in China around December 5.

Governments — including the US and Australia — have called in recent months for an investigation into the COVID-19’s origins, with President Donald Trump repeatedly pushing the theory that the virus originated at a Chinese laboratory.

It comes as pictures show Wuhan residents returning to normal life with nightmarkets full and residents wearing face masks, although social distancing is not observed.

On Wednesday China’s state media claimed “hanging out with friends and shopping could be dangerous” in Australia because of racist attitudes in the latest salvo between the two countries.

“In March, a Chinese student from Hong Kong was punched in the face and injured for wearing a face mask, and a pair of Chinese students were attacked by local gang members in broad daylight in April,” the editorial said.

“Chinese business owners were also targeted, finding racist slogans outside their shops and restaurants, or their properties being vandalised.”

Hua also previously blasted an Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) report which claimed Chinese Communist Party operatives known as United Front are on a mission to influence almost every aspect of Australian life.

“United Front(’s) work encompasses a broad spectrum of activity, from espionage to foreign interference, influence and engagement,” ASPI report author Alex Joske said.

“The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) attempts to interfere in diaspora communities, influence political systems and covertly access valuable and sensitive technology will only grow as tensions between China and countries around the world develop.”

But Hua said ASPI has been “enthusiastic about cooking up and sensationalising anti-China topics” and was receiving funds from pro-US forces.

“It is so imbued with ideological prejudice that it becomes an anti-China “vanguard”, which leads to serious doubt on its academic integrity. It has also fabricated a fallacious report on so-called “Xinjiang-related issues”, making it a laughing stock in the world,” she said.

China has previously threatened an economic boycott and launched tariffs on Australian barley and a blockade on some meat exports in moves seen as punishment for the virus inquiry.

– with wires

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