Inq has been at work deciphering Australia’s new and evolving China policy and we’ve come up with five variations.
Here’s how wedge politics works when it comes to a new threat from afar. We’re calling it “Stop the Bats”.
After all, it worked before.
1. Wet market — all an accident
This position gives China the benefit of the doubt. It assumes that, when COVID-19 jumped species from an infected bat at a Wuhan wildlife market, no one was the wiser and, next thing, the world was infected.
You can’t blame anyone. Heck, bat-shit happens. And really it could have happened anywhere.
This would be classic wet-left thinking — way too left for Anthony Albanese if he wants a shot at PM. (See two, below.)
A “no blame” position, though, is a good place for ex-politicians to head if they don’t want to cause offence.
Bob Carr, former foreign affairs minister and former director of the Australia-China Relations Institute, has decided the real culprit is bad Australian diplomacy.
Fellow former foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop wants “a global review” to look at the United States and Europe as well, so it’s not “squarely aimed” China.
2. Wet market — sinister silence
As above, but it assumes Chinese officials decided to keep the truth of the virus from the rest of the world — and its own population — because that’s how repressive one-party states work.
This proves the failings of the Chinese system of government and why we need to be on guard about China’s expansionism: don’t trust China.
This one is favoured by the Morrison government at the moment.
Others in this camp: Britain and the Five Eyes intelligence network, and former top public servant Martin Parkinson.
But Morrison’s call for an inquiry into how it all came to be keeps open the possibility of a more hard-line position (see option three below).
Inq can see some government MPs veering towards option three. These include Peter Dutton and parliamentary intelligence and security committee chairman Andrew Hastie. Hastie has previously said that “the Chinese Communist Party seeks to reshape the global order and Australia’s position in it”.
3. Made in lab — with evil intent
The theory that Chinese scientists made the virus in a lab in Wuhan can really only mean one thing: China planned to unleash COVID-19 in order to destroy the West, thereby handing China world domination.
The qualifier here that the virus may have “accidentally escaped” might sometimes be used for manners.
This is a policy position favoured by US President Donald Trump — who is seeking re-election — and backed by the Murdochs’ Fox News. Watch for that particular policy creep into Australia as it emerges as a populist position for some.
It’s also the favoured theory of author and critic of the Chinese government Clive Hamilton, who told Sky News’ Sharri Markson that the idea the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan wet market “simply doesn’t stack up”.
Queensland Coalition MP George Christensen, who is setting up a “China inquiry” website, is probably already at stage three.
4. Actually, it didn’t start in China at all
At the other end of the spectrum is the theory that the virus might have started outside China and been introduced by a returning citizen. This is the kindest of all to China and casts it as a victim of a horrible accident.
This tends to be favoured by business magnates with huge iron ore deals with China — who are allowed to stay friends with the Morrison government because, well, money…
Signed up to this is Twiggy Forrest. It may also include the University of Queensland, which is taking action against a student who has been critical of China.
5. America made it — and blamed China
This is a position favoured by China and popular on Chinese messaging app WeChat.
It has no apparent political support in Australia — yet. Inq reckons that if anyone would support it, it would be NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane, who made a name for himself praising China’s President Xi for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, and warned that “the obsolete scum of white Australia” has re-emerged.