How seriously should Australia take Beijing’s attacks in Chinese state media?
Chinese state media has weighed in again on Australian-Chinese relations, slamming Beijing's relations with Canberra as "among the worst of all Western nations".
- Media experts say Global Times measures its success by quotes in Western media
- Different state media tones are intended to reflect both emotional and official perspectives
- Observers say the current tone will not change unless Australian media changes
The criticism comes amid a war of words between Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Australia's former China ambassador Geoff Raby, now a private business consultant, who wrote a damning opinion piece earlier this week claiming relations with Beijing would only improve with the Foreign Minster's sacking.
Ms Bishop hit back saying Mr Raby's piece was "profoundly ignorant" and one of the most "ill-informed" she had read about the China-Australia relationship.
Since then, various Chinese state media outlets have chimed in.
One paper — The Global Times — ran an editorial in Chinese and English titled "Canberra's China Policy Justly Under Fire", stating Beijing had tremendous influence over Australia.
"The China-Australia relationship doesn't carry much weight in Beijing diplomacy, and [the] Chinese have no sense of urgency to improve ties with Canberra," it reads.
The paper — a subsidiary of the Communist Party's mouthpiece, People's Daily — emphasised contemptuously, "the situation is different for Australia".
"China has tremendous influence on Australia's development. Canberra will certainly feel uneasy for upsetting ties with Beijing," it said.
"Australia's relations with China are among the worst of all Western nations."
The articles have also been circulated on several other Chinese media platforms, and under the Chinese versions of the articles, there follows a swathe of negative comments, comparing Australia to a "kangaroo", "the dog of the United States", and "a koala with sharp claws".
Beijing's media apparatus is famous for launching attacks on the relationship — often via anonymous authors — which are then widely shared.
So what is driving the hostility towards the Australian Government and how much weight should Australian readers give it?
'Not healthy for Chinese-Australian relationship'
Kevin Carrico, a lecturer in Chinese studies at Macquarie University, told the ABC he found it "highly problematic and ironic" how the Global Times had actively interjected itself into the Australian foreign policy disagreement between Ms Bishop and Mr Raby.
"It seems like the Global Times is openly supporting calls for the removal of a senior Australian official," Dr Carrico said.
"Which — considering China's official rhetoric of not interfering in other countries internal affairs — is a little ironic."
"When we look at an article like this from the Global Times, it seems China has a particular vision of what Australian foreign policy should be, and it doesn't seem shy about attempting to encourage, even further pressure Australia in that direction, and I don't think that's a healthy way for the Chinese-Australian relationship."
"So much of the debate in Australia about Chinese interference has been partisan — people use it to point fingers at the other side," Dr Carrico said.
"But in reality, this is an issue that should transcend narrow partisanship, and the article clearly shows the very real risks of viewing the issue primarily through a partisan lens."
Global Times' key KPI being quoted in western media
With a particular focus on international affairs, the Global Times sits under the auspices of the more important People's Daily, which also ran a straight news article on the spat, quoting Australian media.
"In terms of the Chinese media outlets, the Peoples' Daily certainly reflects the views of the Communist Party more than the Global Times, especially editorials of the People's Daily," Mobo Gao, Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Adelaide, told the ABC.
"The Global Times is allowed to say things emotionally and less diplomatically that the more official People's Daily would not say.
"Very often it tries to guess what its readers would like to hear. It has a large readership while the official People's Daily has hardly any, except compulsory official subscription."
According to a Lowy Institute report, citing Chinese reporters, the Global Times acts as a thermometer of public opinion for Chinese leaders on foreign policy issues, and provides a channel for Beijing to voice its displeasure and let off some nationalist steam.
"One of the KPIs for Global Times is how many times it gets cited in foreign press, so editors often use colourful and outrageous language to attract foreign media's attention," former journalist and non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute Peter Cai wrote, citing a state media reporter.
"We should object to insulting editorials from the Global Times.
"But we should also be aware that any discussion of editorial positions which, in the end, lack real substance and are not the voice of government, also plays into the hands of the newspaper which prides itself on its ability to rile foreigners."
'The media is the barometer of political change'
Pan Chengxin, an associate professor of international relations at Deakin, told the ABC the general trend in Chinese coverage is that it is "reactive".
"The spikes in interest in Australia in the Chinese press often coincided with some major events or incidents in bilateral relations — or in this case, Australian commentaries in relation to China," Mr Pan said.
"With perhaps the exception of Global Times, most Chinese coverage tends to quote original English sources, with few added commentaries.
"Overall, however, the Chinese media coverage of Australia lacks analytical depth. This can be a bit frustrating for researchers if they try to gauge Chinese views on Australia or this bilateral relationship because of such reporting style in the Chinese media."
Dr Jian Xu, a communications expert at Deakin University, told the ABC that along with the other main state platforms — like Xinhua and China Central Television (CCTV) — the outlets' commentaries are driven by the Communist Party's "Go Out Policy" to promote Chinese soft power overseas.
"The media is always the barometer of political change, and the Beijing-Canberra media chaos embodies the current tensions between the two countries," Dr Xu said.
"The People's Daily and the Global Times' tone together on Australian foreign policy disagreements represent the stance of the Chinese Government and the Communist Party.
"The tone will not change unless Australia media changes how it covers China-related issues and Australia-China relations."
The Department of Foreign Affairs refused to comment further on the issues and the Chinese embassy in Australia had not responded to requests for comment.