Chinese Embassy in Australia Makes a Mess of China's Goodwill Tour

AP Photo/Andy Wong

China and Australia are trading partners but there has been some tension in the last few years as Australia has joined the US and Japan in pushing back on China's attempts to dominate the region. So it was a big deal when China's Premier Li Qiang made a four day visit to Australia intended as a kind of goodwill tour which included an announcement that China would change out some existing pandas at an Australian zoo.


The new pandas will replace the zoo's existing pandas, named Wang Wang and Fu Ni, who are "friendly messengers of China-Australia relations," Mr Li Said.

Mr Li's arrival in Australia on a four-day trip is the first by a Chinese leader in seven years, marking improving ties between the two countries...

...bilateral relations hit a low point when the former Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, called for an international inquiry in 2020 into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic in China.

Beijing's answer was to impose high tariffs, including on Australian wine.

The goodwill tour culminated with Premiere Li meeting Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Canberra. The two leaders held a signing ceremony in front of the media where statements were made and photos were taken but no questions were allowed. No one wanted to risk the goodwill tour having an awkward moment. And it might have all gone fairly smoothly if not for the goons from the Chinese Embassy who ensured that no one would forget how China does things.

One of the reporters who showed up at the signing even was an Australian woman named Cheng Lei who was detained by China in 2020 and held for three years before finally being released. Cheng now works for Sky News and was sent to cover the event. But the Chinese embassy decided they had to make sure none of the cameras would capture B-roll of Cheng because that might suggest that China is a miserable police state. So members of the embassy took up positions between Cheng and the cameras. And when asked to move by Australian officials, they refused


Australian officials repeatedly asked the Chinese embassy official to move, initially politely. After these requests were rebuffed, an Australian official was heard to say: “You’re standing in front of my Australian colleague – you must move.”

A fellow Australian journalist then offered to swap seats with Cheng, resulting in her moving two seats to the right. When another embassy official appeared to move around to try to get close to Cheng, Australian officials blocked the path...

Cheng later told Sky News she believed the officials were trying “to prevent me from saying something or doing something that they think would be a bad look, but that in itself was a bad look”.

She said the Australian officials “behaved courteously” whereas the Chinese embassy officials were “willing to go above and beyond the line of decency”.

Here's the goon squad in action.

If I had to guess why the embassy staff were so worried, it may have been because Cheng Lei participated in a one-off comedy show in which she joined another Chinese dissident just last week, both of them poking fun at China's police state.


Making her comedy debut in a one-off show in Melbourne with Vicky Xu – a writer and well-known Chinese dissident – Cheng joked that the premier had “got the dates wrong” and would miss their performance.

She said if she had met him, she would have said: “Hello premier, thank you so much for the rent-free accommodation. Can I please reciprocate the hospitality. You look worried but I insist, don’t you want a bit of a digital detox weight-loss program?”

Cheng said for much of her time in detention she was fed cabbage stew and dreamed of “shoplifting a whole tray of meat pies from a bakery”. Since her release in October, she said she’s enjoyed cheese toasties, pizzas, steaks and many “chippies”.

“I’ve put on seven kilos since coming out of detention. It’s the first time in my adult life I’ve been really happy about putting on weight,” Cheng said.

China is ultra-sensitive about stuff like this so it doesn't surprise me that they tried this stunt at the press event. Here's a good narration of what happened. Great work by the goon squad to make sure this overshadowed the end of the goodwill tour.


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