Here in Australia, we’ve created a firestorm of public opinion on our relationship with China following a decision by our Foreign Minister to go on national television and propose an international enquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. On the surface this seems like a reasonable suggestion but the timing of it is all wrong (with much of the world still at a critical stage of fighting the health and economic crisis) and, whether it was meant or not, it can only be interpreted as a direct criticism of China, which was always likely to provoke an angry reaction from Beijing.
This has sparked all kinds of public reaction and debate in the local media, politics and in the business community, with everyone taking to social media to vent their personal views. Now we’ve got people questioning everything from the importance of China to Australia’s economy (which is fine until you examine the actual facts and figures) to one prominent individual saying that making friends with the Chinese is a “fool’s errand”! And of course anyone who dares to come out with positive messages about China, and its importance to Australia’s economy, is immediately shot down for having a vested interest for business reasons.
So why does every foreign policy idea, announcement or ‘thought bubble” have to be announced on national TV? What happened to the art of diplomacy when global leaders sat down together (admittedly in pre-coronavirus times), drank tea, praised eachother for their mutual successes, and discussed and debated their areas of difference and/or difficulty? Every country has their weaknesses (I don’t need to spell out some of Australia’s) and, naturally, political leaders don’t want other countries highlighting these tricky domestic issues via the harsh spotlight of the global media.
Why didn’t the Foreign Minister simply pick up the phone (or zoom) and talk to her counterpart in Beijing about her concerns and ask for China to work with Australia and the world to understand the source and spread of the coronavirus? I’m sure she would have got a good response if she’d handled it diplomatically and sensitively. Instead, she took the populist approach, lit the fuse and created a raging public debate which brings out the worst in everyone.
The phrase “act in haste, repent at leisure” comes to mind.