Australian allies raise toast with wine to counter China’s ‘bullying’

A global alliance of parliamentarians has urged people to buy a bottle of Australian wine during the festive season in a campaign designed to stand up against “bullying” by China.

The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, which has a membership of 200 MPs from 19 countries, asked citizens in a video to swap their favourite national tipple for Australian wine in a demonstration of solidarity with Canberra.

The campaign follows Beijing’s imposition of punitive tariffs on Australian exports to China and the publication of an incendiary social media post this week by a senior Chinese diplomat, which depicted an Australian solder holding a bloodstained knife to the throat of an Afghan child.

The Twitter post by Zhao Lijian, which referenced alleged war crimes committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan, provoked an outcry in Australia, where Prime Minister Scott Morrison labelled it as “repugnant” and demanded an apology.

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Beijing fired back on Tuesday, accusing Canberra of seeking to deflect public attention from “horrible atrocities” and attempting to “stoke domestic nationalism”.

The diplomatic stand-off is the latest barrage in a dispute that erupted after Canberra demanded an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in April. Beijing has retaliated by slapping sanctions on beef, wine, coal and several other Australian exports, which analysts labelled a deliberate policy of “economic coercion” against Canberra.

China is Australia’s largest trade partner, with two-way trade amounting to A$252bn ($185bn) last year. Industries in politically sensitive sectors, including winemakers, face severe disruption under the punitive tariffs and technical trade barriers that restrict exports.

On Wednesday, Mr Morrison made a direct appeal to the Chinese public on WeChat, saying the provocative tweet would not diminish Australia’s respect for the Chinese community at home or abroad. But he said Australia would remain “true to our values and protect our sovereignty”.

Analysts said the campaign by IPAC — a cross-party group of legislators seeking to reform how democratic nations approach China — is a symbolic gesture rather than a measure that will substantially boost Australian wine sales.

But it reflects growing concern that China is increasingly resorting to economic muscle to target individual countries for criticising Beijing over human rights and other policies.

“This isn’t just an attack on Australia. It’s an attack on free countries everywhere,” said Kimberley Kitching, an Australian senator, in the IPAC video.

Ms Kitching said China had cancelled a range of Australian imports in an attempt to “bully” Australia into “abandoning its values” and to stop it from speaking out in defence of human rights and the rules-based order.

Miriam Lexmann, a member of the European parliament from Slovakia, invited people to “stand against [China’s president] Xi Jinping’s authoritarian bullying”.

Several of Australia’s closest allies have also voiced support for Canberra, including New Zealand, France and the UK. The National Security Council, which advises US presidents on security issues, said it would serve Australian wine at a White House Function this week.

“Pity vino lovers in China, who due to Beijing’s coercive tariffs on Aussie vintners will miss out. #AussieAussieAussieOiOiOi!,” the NSC wrote on Twitter.

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