Australia’s call for an inquiry into the genesis of COVID-19 has angered Beijing. That hasn’t stopped the billionaire philanthropist delivering his own version of China relations.

The recriminations between Canberra and Beijing are another icy escalation of an already frigid diplomatic relationship dating back to the Turnbull government. Morrison pointed out what is still officially known as a comprehensive strategic partnership is mutually beneficial. The obvious implication is that China relies on Australias commodities as much as this country relies on the income those exports provide.
The timing of the event to announce 10 million more tests from China made the governments expression of gratitude a delicate diplomatic exercise.
We will continue to pursue that partnership, respecting China’s sovereignty, and their independence, and its success will continue to depend on that being returned,the Prime Minister said. The predominance of our trading relationship with China is obviously resources based, and I see no reason why that would alter in the future.
Predictable backlash
Yet his confidence doesnt answer the pricklier question about whether it is in Australias national interest to take the public lead in pushing for an inquiry right now, especially with little apparent diplomatic work beforehand to consolidate support.
Chinas behaviour in not revealing the breakout of the virus and then rejecting responsibility for its global spread has been condemned. Chinas actions have damaged President Xi Jinpings reputation globally, independent of US President Donald Trumps daily assaults on the China virus for causing deaths and devastation.
But it is a much more equal diplomatic equation when one super power decided to berate the other than when a middle power decides to assert itself in a tense, preoccupied world.
Xi is clearly determined to present himself to his own population and internationally as a hero in both beating COVID-19 in China and now in helping other countries trying to do the same by providing scarce medical equipment. That means Beijing will fight any suggestion it is in any way to blame or is not behaving as a responsible global leader, accusing Australia of once again bowing to US wishes.
The ambassador was also careful to talk less about the impact on Australian commodities than about Chinese consumers sensitivity to criticism and it affecting areas such as tourism, education and agricultural exports where Australias appeal is more vulnerable.
‘The Twiggy tests’
Enter the chair and founder of Fortescue Metals, who has used his excellent personal relationships within China developed over decades of selling iron ore to help source a range of crucial medical equipment in recent weeks. This is via the Forrests charitable arm, the Minderoo Foundation, with the Prime Minister regularly thanking them for their successful efforts.
But the timing of the event to announce 10 million more test kits from China made the governments expression of gratitude a delicate diplomatic exercise. Forrest has consistently praised Chinas willingness to help Australia in its time of need with Minderoo and FMG having earlier sent equipment and assistance to Wuhan at the peak of China’s outbreak.
He says any inquiry should wait until after the US election, given the determination of a US President seeking re-election to play politics about COVID-19 and blame everyone but himself for whats happening in the US.
Standing beside Australias Health Minister and Chinas consul-general, Long Zhou, Forrest preferred to focus on the huge depth of the relationship which exists between the business community on both sides and the trust and the friendship.
Wang Jian, chairman of Chinese genome sequencing company BGI, sold the equipment for the dollar amount he initially agreed with Forrest, despite much higher subsequent offers from other desperate buyers. In a statement, Wang called them the Twiggy tests.
But when Forrest invited Long Zhou to step forward on Wednesday, it also gave China a platform to describe how it attached great importance to international health co-operation”.
“The Chinese government has released information related to the COVID-19 in an open, transparent and responsible manner and we have worked closely with WHO and other countries including shared experiences in epidemic prevention and control and providing assistance within our capacity,” he said.
“China very much appreciates and is thankful for the compassion, support and sympathy of the Australian people towards the Chinese people in our fight against the virus and vice versa, we are also doing everything possible to help Australia.”
Was that the sound of Canberra teeth grinding?
Hunt deflected awkward questions on the giant panda in the room to an absent Foreign Minister. The day was, he declared, an “example of co-operation and success”.