Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells
Australia has faced many challenges since the early 1900s. Whether it was from the Spanish flu, SARS, the
global financial crisis, terrorism or dealing with fascist and communist regimes, Australians have always
rallied to the cause. In so doing, at times, they have paid a dear price. Similarly, the Wuhan virus (Covid-19)
has tested Australians’ resolve and, by all accounts, the experience and its impact will shift the Australian
way of life to a new paradigm.
We’re an innovative society that relishes our freedoms, including freedom of speech, freedom of
association and the rule of law—those characteristics of a Western-style democracy. By that same token,
Australians are an inclusive society that has welcomed new Australians from many diverse backgrounds.
However, Australians will no longer tolerate ‘business as usual’ with the Chinese Communist Party
(CCP) in Beijing, given the substantial evidence that the virus originated in China and attempts by the
regime to cover up not only the virus’s transmission, but also the number of deaths resulting from it
(Allen-Ebrahimian 2020, Davidson 2020, Folmer & Margolin 2020, Geraghty 2020, Hagstrom 2020, Linder
2020, Qiao et al. 2020, Rauhala 2020, Shih et al. 2020, Zhuang 2020).
As a priority, the Australian Government should act on those matters that are under its direct control
• a plan for reparations or compensation for the enormous costs of the pandemic
• a plan to decouple from China.
Plan for reparations or compensation
Following the pandemic, it will be incumbent on the Australian Government to look at ways to recover
damages. Billions of dollars of taxpayers’ monies are being expended for health costs and damages to
our economy, which is now in recession. Whether the virus originated in a wet market or a laboratory in
Wuhan, evidence, including from Western intelligence sources, points to China’s culpability (Botrao & Li
2020, Cotton 2020, Gertz 2020, ODNI 2020, Seal 2020, Takamura 2020, Wadhams & Jacobs 2020). This is the
belief held by millions around the world, including Australians, who think the CCP regime should be held
to account (Mills 2020, Bourke 2020, Chang 2020).
Despite its propaganda, Beijing’s efforts to use the coronavirus to enhance its global standing have failed.
As the UK think tank, the Henry Jackson Society clearly states, had China provided accurate information
at an early juncture, ‘the infection would not have left China’ and that:
in order to preserve the rules-based international system and to protect taxpayers from
punitive liabilities, the world should seek to take legal action against the PRC for the breaches of
international law and their consequences. (Henderson et al. 2020)
Indeed, on the issue of culpability, questions have also been raised about whether the actions of the
communist regime were deliberate (Hartcher 2020). A translated speech given to a select group of
high-level CCP officials by Chi Haotian, China’s Defence Minister from 1993 to 2003 and Vice-Chairman
of its Central Military Commission, chillingly refers to ‘using non-destructive weapons that can kill many
After Covid-19 Volume 3: Voices from federal parliament 25
people’ and the ‘rapid development of modern biological technology and new bio-weapons’ puts the
recent outbreak in a more sinister light.1
Fox presenter Laura Ingraham recently reflected the views of many: ‘How convenient. You lie about
this virus, it kills an extraordinary number worldwide, then turn it all into billions in profit on a vaccine’
(Pompeo 2020c). Her comments are linked to a Global Times article titled ‘Patent affirms efficacy of
vaccine developed by China’ (Leng & Hu 2020).
The Henry Jackson Society report outlines some legal routes that should be explored by nations,
corporations and individuals injured by the Covid-19 outbreak. Were the UK to pursue a claim against
China and secure a judgement that mandates compensation, and were China to ignore it, the authors
argue that Whitehall would be entitled to pursue any lawful means to collect that compensation, including
seizing Chinese state-owned property or halting repayments on Chinese-owned sovereign debt.
In the US, various legal claims have been commenced, including legal proceedings by the state of Missouri
While issues involving compensation are complex, they require consideration by our government.
They can’t just be set to one side.
Fellow traveller foreign policy of appeasement
Threats to Australia by the CCP regime, including by its ambassador in Australia, are symptomatic of the
predicament we find ourselves in. Years of questionable (defective) foreign and trade policy have made us
vulnerable to economic coercion.
Those who are responsible for our ‘fellow traveller’ foreign policy were prepared to ignore the CCP’s
skulduggery so long as the ‘rivers of gold’ continued to flow—a very flawed economic model.
While the communist regime’s bully tactics on different fronts have been clear over many years, there’s
been a reluctance by policymakers to offend China. Indeed, under the Abbott government, our free trade
agreement with China was signed and the Port of Darwin lease was granted. Thankfully, the Coalition
party room rejected the Turnbull government proposal for an extradition treaty with China. While our
2017 Foreign Policy White Paper professed to be a projection of our values, commercial interests over
many years have clouded our judgement. We preferred the appeasement of communist China rather than
standing up for our democratic values and the rule of law.
Plan to decouple from China: reduce our dependency on the CCP regime
We’ll need to reduce our dependency on China by increasing our self-sufficiency, especially in
critical supply chains, and by seeking alternative markets (Rogers et al. 2020). The Australian public
will be required to play its significant part. Indeed, every Australian consumer has the power of
choice, and that choice should be to buy Australian over cheap and, in many cases, poor-quality
When I visited Mongolia in 2018, I spoke with several Mongolian politicians who had studied in Australia
(they and others who had studied in Australia were affectionately known as the ‘Mozzies’). Some were
quite blunt in their assessment that Australia ought not fear standing up to China. In fact, one made the
26 ASPI STRATEGY
salient point that, while Beijing might not like you, it will still trade with you because it needs what you’re
selling. Mongolians know about survival, sandwiched as they are between China and Russia!
Indeed, as the recent record trade figures show, despite the bluster, our exports to China remain steady
(Bagshaw 2020). This is because iron ore, coal and other high-quality commodities we export are vitally
important to China’s economic growth and feeding its 1.3 billion or so population.
Overhaul of critical infrastructure and foreign investment framework:
the national interest
My prescient warnings in early 2018 regarding the CCP’s debt-trap diplomacy sparked an international
debate, most especially regarding Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. The initiative is debt-trap diplomacy.
The CCP is using the pandemic as a cover to take advantage of economically stressed nations (Cheong
As part of decoupling, it’s also vital that we overhaul our critical infrastructure and foreign investment
framework, including by expanding the parameters of ‘national interest’ to ensure we protect our national
sovereignty. We need to look at practical ways to protect our sovereignty, starting with the Port of Darwin.
Any reform of foreign investment policy will require more areas to be subject to scrutiny as well as greater
restrictions on foreign ownership and control. Policy reform would include restrictions on acquisitions
and leases by entities, whether Australian owned or controlled or with foreign directors, or directors with
dual nationality taking over Australian businesses or companies.
Such an overhaul will also require an examination of the exemption for acquisitions by foreign entities
from our federal, state, territory or local governments. While there have been changes since the
acquisition of the Port of Darwin, the exemption from foreign investment review still exists for acquisitions
from our governments unless the purchaser is a foreign government investor and the subject of the sale is
public infrastructure. We should now consider removing the exemption so that all acquisitions by foreign
entities are subject to scrutiny and the national interest test.
Freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea
China is using the pandemic to aggressively pursue its illegal claims in the South China Sea, including
against Taiwan (Huang 2020, Jha 2020, Kelly 2020, Mangosing 2020).3
We can’t continue to assert on the
one hand that we don’t recognise China’s claims in the South China Sea, yet, on the other hand, shy away
from undertaking freedom of navigation operations within the 12-mile limit with the US and other allies.
It would be freedom of navigation inside the territorial waters of the rightful owners of the respective
islands of the Philippines, Vietnam and other nations, which are illegally claimed by Beijing through the
nonsense of the ‘nine-dash line’. Freedom of navigation operations would also include, where required,
proportionate responses to counter Beijing’s illegal and bellicose actions.
We need to remember that, as a member of the Five Eyes and a key member of the ANZUS alliance, our
loyalty should be to our friends, not those who seek to do us harm and who call us derogatory names.
Our loyalty should be to those who stood by us in difficult times—let us not forget the rivers of blood
that Americans have shed to help defend Australia. The CCP’s mission is to weaken the US and its allies
through divisions within the US’s alliances.
After Covid-19 Volume 3: Voices from federal parliament 27
China is not a democracy. It’s a totalitarian regime. It doesn’t play by the international rules in a fair
way. Indeed, Beijing abuses the international rules-based order to gain an advantage and rejects
the observance of international law when observance isn’t in its interests. Beijing is not a very good
international citizen. It was therefore regrettable that at the joint US–Australia press conference on
29 July 2020, after the usual platitudes about ‘values’, Marise Payne stressed the differences between
the US and Australia but said that, given the importance of our relationship with China, ‘we have no
intention of injuring it’ (Morrison & Payne 2020).
Greater awareness of CCP skulduggery in Australia
The pandemic has brought greater focus on the CCP’s activities, both within China and internationally.
The spotlight has been placed on its disregard for international law, its infiltration of international bodies,
its cyber activities, its persecution of groups such as the Uyghurs and Falun Gong and, most recently,
its breaches of the Sino-UK declaration relating to Hong Kong through the passage of the security law.
Australians have become much more aware of the insidious practices of the CCP in Australia by those
loyal to Beijing, including the work of the United Front Work Department and the Confucius Institutes.
The Pavlou case at the University of Queensland and the recent attempts to censor free speech at
the University of NSW have highlighted the dependency in our universities on Chinese students and
funding from Chinese sources. Clearly, the universities most at fault have failed to follow the advice of
their own business schools on practising sound investment strategies, including the diversification of
In addition, publications by Professor Clive Hamilton and Alex Joske have contributed to the education
of Australians and growing awareness of the insidious practices by Beijing loyalists in Australia (Hamilton
2018, Hamilton & Ohlberg 2020, Joske 2020). That contribution to the debate has resulted in the growing
wariness that Australians feel towards the CCP, thus cementing the view that it can no longer be ‘business
as usual’ with China.
Conclusion: political fortitude
Just over a year ago, we allowed three Chinese warships to sail into Sydney Harbour on the 30th
anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. We’re advised that it was a cabinet decision! Changing
business-as-usual practices in our dealings with the CCP will require the Australian Government to
demonstrate a greater deal of political fortitude.
Despite all the rhetoric and spin, we’re not seeing necessary and decisive actions to give effect to changing
business as usual. The recent decision regarding arrangements that states, territories, councils and
universities have with foreign governments are at least an indication that the leviathan ship of state may
finally be starting to alter course to a better direction, albeit slowly. It will take a great deal more political
fortitude before the ship settles on a safer course to protect Australia’s sovereignty and our democratic
values and principles.
28 ASPI STRATEGY
Allen-Ebrahimian B 2020. ‘Timeline: the early days of China’s coronavirus outbreak and cover-up’, Axios, 18 March, online.
Bagshaw E 2020. ‘Australian trade with China surges as rest of the world falls’, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 August, online.
Botrao Xiao, Lei Xiao, ‘The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus’, ResearchGate, February, online.
Bourke L 2020. ‘“Greatest peril”: study finds Australia most dependent on China among the Five Eyes’, Sydney Morning
Herald, 15 May, online.
Chang C 2020. ‘Coronavirus: Pandemic changes how Australians see China, Lowy study shows’, news.com.au, 14 May, online.
Cheong Seong JL 2020. ‘Beijing tried to use coronavirus crisis to enhance its global standing. It’s not working’, South China
Morning Post, 14 April, online.
Cotton T 2020. ‘Coronavirus: All evidence point to Wuhan labs as source of infection’, The Australian, 22 April, online.
Davidson H 2020. ‘First Covid-19 case happened in November, China government records show—report’, The Guardian,
13 March, online.
Folmer K, Margolin J 2020. ‘Satellite data suggests coronavirus may have hit China earlier: researchers’, ABC News,
8 June, online.
Geraghty J 2020. ‘The comprehensive timeline of China’s COVID-19 lies’, National Review, 23 March, online.
Gertz B 2020. ‘Wuhan lab “most likely” coronavirus source, US government analysis finds’, Washington Times, 28 April, online.
Hagstrom A 2020. ‘China asked the WHO to help cover up coronavirus, German intelligence concludes’, The Daily Caller,
9 March, online.
Hamilton C 2018. Silent invasion: China’s influence in Australia, Hardie Grant Books.
Hamilton C, Ohlberg M 2020. Hidden hand: exposing how the Chinese Communist Party is reshaping the world, Hardie
Hartcher P 2020. ‘The coronavirus crisis was made in China, but no one will say it’, Sydney Morning Herald,
18 February, online.
Henderson M, Mendoza A, Foxall A, Rogers J, Armstrong S 2020. Coronavirus compensation? Assessing China’s potential
culpability and avenues of legal response, Henry Jackson Society, 5 April, online.
Huang K 2020. ‘US accuses Beijing of using coronavirus as cover for South China Sea activity’, South China Morning Post,
7 April, online.
Jha P 2020. ‘China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea’, Modern Diplomat, 27 March, online.
Joske A 2020. The party speaks for you: foreign interference and the Chinese Communist Party’s united front system, ASPI,
Canberra, 9 June, online.
Kelly T 2020. ‘US military commander says China pushing territorial claims under cover of coronavirus’, Reuters,
5 June, online.
Leng S, Hu Y 2020. ‘Patent affirms efficacy of vaccine developed in China’, Global Times, 16 August, online.
Linder A 2020. ‘Urns in Wuhan far exceed death toll, raising more questions about China’s tally’, Shanghaiist,
27 March, online.
Mangosing F 2018. ‘Exclusive: New photos show China is nearly done with its militarization of South China Sea’, Inquirer.net,
5 February, online.
Mills D 2020. ‘What Aussies really think of China’, Daily Telegraph, 12 May, online.
Morrison S, Payne M 2020. ‘Ensuring a consistent Australian foreign policy’, joint media statement, 27 August, online.
ODNI (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) 2020. ‘Intelligence community statement on origins of COVID-19’, ODNI,
Washington DC, 30 April, online.
Page J, Fan W, Khan N 2020. ‘How it all started: China’s early coronavirus missteps’, Wall Street Journal, 6 March, online.
Pompeo MR 2020a. ‘Secretary Michael R Pompeo With Laura Ingraham of Fox News’, interview, US State Department,
6 July, online.
Qiao L, Lau S-F, Mudie L 2020. ‘Estimates show Wuhan death toll far higher than official figure’, Radio Free Asia,
27 March, online.
Rauhala E 2020. ‘Chinese officials note serious problems in coronavirus response. The World Health Organization keeps
praising them’, Washington Post, 9 February, online.
Rogers J, Foxall A, Henderson M, Armstrong s 2020. Breaking the China supply chain: how the ‘Five Eyes’ can decouple from
strategic dependency, Henry Jackson Society, 14 May, online.
Seal T 2020. ‘Covid-like virus was sent to Wuhan in 2013, Sunday Times report says’, The Print, 6 July, online.
After Covid-19 Volume 3: Voices from federal parliament 29
Shih G, Rauhala E, Sun LH 2020. ‘Early missteps and state secrecy in China probably allowed the coronavirus to spread
farther and faster’, Washington Post, 2 February, online.
Takamura K 2020. ‘Did China’s information suppression help spread the coronavirus?’, NHK World, 13 February, online.
Wadhams N, Jacobs J 2020. ‘China concealed extent of virus outbreak, US intelligence says’, Bloomberg, 2 April, online.
Zhuang P 2020. ‘Signs that coronavirus was spreading in Wuhan earlier than thought, study finds’, South China Morning Post,
9 April, online.
1 ‘The secret speech of General Chi Haotian’, JR Nyquist Blog, posted 11 September 2019, online. The speech was translated
into English and first published by the Epoch Times in 2005.
2 ‘US state of Missouri sues China over coronavirus pandemic’, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 April 2020, online ‘Missouri sues
China for “not doing enough” to stop coronavirus spread’, The Guardian, 22 April 2020, online.
3 ‘Strait and harrow: with the world distracted, China intimidates Taiwan’, The Economist, 8 April 2020, online.