Beijing’s top envoy to Australia has suggested one of our allies, Japan, could invade us, invoking the memory of World War II in an extraordinary moment with reporters in the nation’s capital.
“During World War II, Japan invaded Australia, bombed Darwin, killed Australians, and treated Australian prisoners of war in a way that was unacceptable,” Chinese ambassador Xiao Qian said during a press conference in Canberra on Tuesday.
“The Japanese government has not apologised for that.
“Does that mean they haven’t really realised it is wrong? If they don’t apologise, they don’t accept it’s wrong, and they might repeat the history.
“When someone threatens you, they might threaten you again.”
Mr Xiao’s inflammatory remarks came a day after The Australian published an interview with his counterpart from Japan, ambassador Shingo Yamagami.
In that interview, Mr Yamagami addressed the recent thaw in relations between Australia and China under the Albanese government.
“I think this is a good step forward. But at the same time, we have to be vigilant, because when it comes to policy and strategy, nothing fundamental seems to have changed on their part,” he said.
“We would like to see this change of tone, change of tactical approach, leading to the change of policies and measures on their part.”
Mr Xiao made the comments during a rare media appearance on Tuesday, where he was asked about Mr Yamagami’s interview.
“It’s not my role to base myself in Canberra while criticising third countries,” he said at the start of his answer.
“It’s not my role to try and stop Australia developing a normal relationship with a third country.
“So I’m afraid our colleague from Japan is not doing his job.”
At another point in the wide-ranging, 90-minute press conference, Mr Xiao criticised the AUKUS security agreement and claimed it was “not a good idea” for Australia.
He said the alliance between Australia, the UK and the US involved the unnecessary “targeting” of China as a potential threat.
Mr Xiao suggested the AUKUS agreement would amount to a waste of Australian taxpayers’ money.
The Labor government has committed to following through with the security deal the Coalition struck with the UK and the US in 2021 that will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered military submarines.
Mr Xiao said Beijing was not seeking to make an enemy out of any of the three AUKUS member nations, but the pact would be detrimental to their relationships with China.
“It is not helpful. It’s not going to solve any problems at all,” he said.
Mr Xiao claimed Australia would seek to use its nuclear submarines as “conventional weapons”, breaching its commitment as a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade shot down similar claims made by the Chinese Embassy in September, noting the treaty doesn’t prohibit the acquisition of naval nuclear propulsion by non-nuclear weapon states.
DFAT reaffirmed that Australia would not acquire nuclear weapons, with the AUKUS submarines to be powered by nuclear propulsion but armed only with conventional artillery.
Mr Xiao invited the media to a New Year’s event at the Chinese embassy in Canberra on Tuesday.
He toasted journalists with a glass of 2017 Chateau Tanunda Barossa Valley shiraz and claimed there were no Chinese sanctions on Australian products.
“Allow me to propose a toast … to your health, to the friendship between China and Australia. Cheers,” Mr Xiao said, raising a glass of the South Australian vineyard’s signature drop.
The event at the embassy comes amid speculation China is poised to drop its trade restrictions on Australian exports, including wine, after a marked improvement in the relationship between the two countries over the past six months
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in November, ending a six-year diplomatic freeze, before Foreign Minister Penny Wong flew to Beijing last month to meet officials there.
Beijing slapped sanctions on Australian goods estimated to be worth $20bn at the peak of its diplomatic row with Canberra in 2020.
Mr Xiao claimed on Tuesday there was “no such thing” as Chinese sanctions on Australian products but later acknowledged there were “tariffs” on some goods.
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said later on Tuesday the breakdown in the relationship between Australia and China over the past few years had come at a great cost to many farmers and rural communities.
“Whether we’re talking about the wine industry, rock lobsters, barley, a whole range of products that have been affected … that’s why we think it’s a good thing if we can stabilise the relationship with China,” Senator Watt told reporters in Queensland.
“We all know that it’s going to take time. It’s not likely that we’re going to be seeing, you know, things happen overnight.
“But if we can stabilise that relationship and encourage more of that dialogue, that can only be a good thing for Australian farmers, meat processors and rural communities.”
Mr Xiao wouldn’t put an exact time frame on when these restrictions would be lifted but said he wanted a return of a “normal” trading relationship between the two nations.
In his opening remarks, Mr Xiao hailed the election of the Albanese Labor government, which he said was an opportunity to “reset” Australia-Chinese relations.
He fielded questions from reporters on a range of topics, including AUKUS, China’s treatment of Uyghur people in the Xinjiang province and the plight of detained Chinese-Australians Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun.