Australia and China have traded sharp words in recent months on a number of issues, including trade and human rights. Australia joined dozens of nations in condemning China’s human rights abuses of Uighur Muslims earlier this year and has also rejected China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Meanwhile China recently slapped huge tariffs on Australian wine imports and has spoken out about a report linking Australian soldiers to civilian murders in Afghanistan.
The state-run Global Times newspaper recently referred to Australia as a “savage accomplice of US suppression of China” and said Beijing needs to “review its Australia policy”.
It added: “As a warhound of the US, Australia should restrain its arrogance. Particularly, its warships must not come to China's coastal areas to flex muscles, or else it will swallow the bitter pills.”
Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia
It also attacked Australia for speaking out on human rights issues in China, including reports of mass detentions of Uighur Muslims and other minorities.
The Global Times stated: “Australian special forces murdered 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners. Killing innocent people is trampling on human rights no matter what.
“But Canberra has the nerve to put itself on the moral high ground of human rights.”
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Chinese ships in the South China Sea. Analysts say the Global Times' report was a 'warning' to Australia
Analysing the report, Asia Institute fellow Rowan Callick told news.com.au that the report served as a “warning” to Australia against participating in freedom of navigation cruises in the South China Sea.
And Michael Danby, a former Australian Labour Party MP, said the message was “very ominous”.
He added: “That's a threat. HMAS Ballarat was in the South China Sea recently with the US taskforce.”
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What is believed to be a Uighur Muslim detention centre called Artux City Vocational Skills Education Training Service Centre, in Xinjiang, China
Earlier this year, Australia joined 38 other countries including the UK in calling on China to allow independent observers into the country to make sure human rights there are not being violated.
The countries said they were concerned about a network of “political re-education” camps in China’s Xinjiang region and referred to reports stating that “over a million people have been arbitrarily detailed”.
The 39 nations’ statement read: “There are severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and the freedoms of movement, association, and expression as well as on Uighur culture.”
China's President Xi Jinping. Australia and China have been at odds on various issues in recent months
Meanwhile, China’s reference to Australian soldiers in Afghanistan follows the release of a report last month which investigated the murder of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2009 and 2013.
It found that “warrior culture” amongst Australian soldiers led to the killings. Incidents included junior soldier being told to get a ‘first kill’ by shooting prisoners.
The report also found evidence that weapons were placed near to the bodies of Afghan people to cover up crimes, according to the BBC.
A report has linked Australian soldiers to civilian and prisoner killings in Afghanistan
Following the report, 13 Special Forces soldiers have been sent notices of likely dismissal due to being accessories or witnesses to the killings.
In addition, 19 Special Air Service soldiers could face prosecution for the killings.