China’s wolf fighters are angry at the accusations of the new coronavirus

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The downturn in China-Australia relations sounds like a small detail in the overall situation of world affairs. But this is a corner of the canvas that deserves close attention. It provides an early indication that China is extremely sensitive to international calls for investigation of the origin of Covid-19.

The deterioration of the relationship between Beijing and Canberra is shocking.As early as 2014, General Secretary Xi Jinping Speech The Australian Parliament praised the new trade agreement and the “great ocean of goodwill between Australia and China”.But in the past year, China Tariffs imposed And other measures against Australian wine, food and coal, as well as Chinese officials accusing the country of racism with War crimes.

The origin of the dispute may be as important as the way it unfolds.At the end of last year, Chinese diplomats released a list of files 14 Grievance Against Australia. Complaints include blocking foreign investment transactions and funding “anti-China” research. But there is one particular dissatisfaction that stands out.

Watching Chronology of disputesObviously, the moment when China really escalated the problem was Canberra Claim Independent investigation into the origin of Covid-19. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison even called for “weapons inspector-like powers” to be given to international experts when conducting investigations.Chinese Ambassador to Canberra Responded It warned that such obvious insults could trigger a Chinese consumer’s boycott of Australian products. Within a few months, the Chinese government took the initiative to impose tariffs on its own.

Beijing finally agreed to the World Health Organization’s investigation.But the inspectors are very limited Within the range they can see.China’s apparent desperate control of the narrative is counterproductive-incitement doubt Those who think the state has something to hide.

In fact, guilt is not the only reasonable explanation for Beijing’s response. The greater difficulty is that China’s response to any criticism from the outside world appears to be a toxic mixture of threats, harsh words, and secrecy. This applies whether the subject is Xinjiang, Taiwan or Covid-19.

This style “War Wolf” Diplomacy It is often counterproductive. But this is also an inevitable product of a domestic system that requires appreciation of President Xi-and enforcement of such requirements through censorship and suppression. It is unrealistic to expect a closed and paranoid system at home to become flexible and open in contact with the outside world. Many radical messages from Chinese diplomats may even be aimed at ordinary citizens or bosses in the country. The purpose is to show that the Xi government is stepping up for China.

When investigating Covid-19, the Chinese government was also indirectly protected by Donald Trump.The fact that the former U.S. president is widely regarded as a liar–and has a clear political motivation to blame China for the pandemic–makes Easy to fire All the suggestions about the Wuhan laboratory leak are just another far-right conspiracy theory.

Paradoxically, Joe Biden’s more cautious approach poses a greater threat to Beijing because it has greater credibility at home and abroad.U.S. President Openly Accepted His intelligence agency disagrees on the theory of laboratory leaks. If the theory is confirmed, he may really worry about the consequences. Even if the Biden administration tries to limit the impact of this investigation result, US courts may also file a lawsuit-demanding China to provide huge compensation. The White House’s efforts to maintain a delicate balance between confrontation and cooperation with China will be blown away.

China’s stakes are very high.In the past year, China has Change the narrative On Covid-19. After being initially shocked by being the first to bear the brunt, Beijing succeeded in highlighting China’s success in controlling the disease compared to the high death toll in the West.

News of the new US investigation suddenly put Beijing in trouble again. Faced with such a severe situation, China needs all the friends it can find. But in the past year, the Xi Jinping government and its embarrassed diplomats have been alienating potential partners.The latest blow is the decision of the European Parliament freeze Approval of a major investment agreement between China and the European Union-imposed in Beijing Sanctions European officials and institutions, this in itself is a response to the EU sanctions imposed on Xinjiang.

Relations with India have also steadily deteriorated in the past year. For New Delhi, Turning point Last year, China’s aggression in the Himalayas resulted in the death of both sides’ troops. Senior Indian analysts believe that Beijing’s pressure on Covid-19 in the summer of 2020 may be a background factor in the decision to escalate tensions.

An obvious risk is that if China feels that Covid-19 is newly pushed into desperation, it will again respond with aggression—or seek some kind of international transfer. It is inevitable and necessary to understand the driving force of how the pandemic started. This is also very dangerous.

gideon.rachman@ft.com

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