In an attempt to deflect blame from his murderously incompetent handling of the COVID-19 pandemic after it came to the United States’ shores, in the middle of March, the Mango Mussolini began referring to the Sars-Cov-2 virus as the “Chinese virus”1., and stated that China could have done more to prevent the spread of the disease2. Some time later Trump’s talking poodle, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, initially claimed there was “enormous evidence” the coronavirus outbreak originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, although he did not provide any of this supposed evidence3. Pompeo now appears to be backing away from a this ‘theory’, stating that he couldn’t be certain of its origin and that the evidence that it came from “the vicinity” of the Wuhan lab “could be wrong”. In a recent interview, he said “we know it began in Wuhan, but we don’t know from where or from whom, and those are important things”4.
Intelligence shared among the Five Eyes nations (US, UK, Canada, Australia, NZ) indicates it is “highly unlikely” that the coronavirus outbreak was spread as a result of an accident in a laboratory, but rather originated in a Chinese wet market5.
So, what did Morrison do? He opened his mouth and called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus not long after Trump and Pompeo had cast aspersions on China. While Australia did not withdraw its funding of the World Health Organisation, as the US did, it did call for a review and overhaul of the organisation6. Of course, China assumed the US and Morrison were singing from the same song sheet and spat the dummy. In an attempt to embarrass the Morrison government, in late April, the Chinese embassy released details of a call from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and claimed the secretary of that department had said it was “not the time to commence the review now and Australia has no details of the proposal”6.
If it wasn’t enough for Morrison to flap his jaw before engaging his brain, Peter Dutton provoked the Chinese even more by demanding transparency over the origin and spread of the deadly coronavirus. Then, even more stupidly, Dutton cited the same “evidence” to which Pompeo referred (and from which the latter now resiles), but said he had not seen the documents. Pointedly, and accurately, the Chinese Embassy in Canberra said Dutton was being a US mouthpiece, and that such behaviour was pitiful7. Then, as if to exacerbate the problem, George Christensen, one of the vegetables in the crisper drawer of the Coalition’s backbench, has threatened to summons the Chinese ambassador to answer questions from a parliamentary committee. This attempt to compel the ambassador to appear at a hearing in Canberra is certain to fail because of diplomatic immunity8. Whether Christensen knows this is debatable given his profound ignorance of most aspects of government; however, his effort has simply added to the ire of the Chinese.
So, what did China do? It imposed a 73.6% anti-dumping tariff and a 6.9% anti-subsidy tariff on Australia’s barley imports to China, for the next 5 years. China’s pretext for this was that the barley had been dumped on the Chinese market and that Australia’s barley producers are subsidised9. China’s Ministry of Commerce announced the tariffs late on Monday after completing a 16-month investigation into an anti-dumping complaint. A statement on the ministry’s website said: “The investigating authority has ruled that there was dumping of imported barley from Australia and the [Chinese] domestic industry suffered substantial damage”10. The Chinese maintained that this was not in retaliation for the stupidity of Morrison, Dutton and Christensen. Of course they would do this. Not to do so would undermine their claim for the imposition of the tariff. And, of course the Coalition believed them. Not to do so would clearly demonstrate their stupidity.
The World Health Assembly, the key decision-making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO), recently held a two-day virtual meeting and came up with the following resolution which in part states:
“Initiate, at the earliest appropriate moment, and in consultation with member states, a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation … to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to Covid-19”…and that it must “identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts, including through efforts such as scientific and collaborative field missions”11.
This resolution has been written by someone who understands both diplomacy and the science of COVID-19. Is there anyone out there who believes someone like Morrison or any of his sidekicks could draft a resolution like that? I couldn’t imagine it in my wildest dreams.
This episode demonstrates clearly that Australia is led by people who have a limited ability to cope with the modern world, let alone with diplomacy. Morrison’s incompetence has almost overnight severely damaged Australia’s barley export market in China for the next five years. In 2018, this market was worth $1.5 billion, but because of the drought, this declined to $600 million in 2019. Half of Australia’s barley crop used to be exported to China9. Guess from where China will be buying its replacement barley; the US12. If Trump and Pompeo had a modicum of intelligence, one could believe that had played Morrison, but that is just as fanciful as believing Morrison is capable of repairing the damage he has done.