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Plus, China is a nuclear power. Australia is not.
Relations between Canberra and Beijing have been in a deep freeze for almost a year, since Morrison and his government infuriated their Chinese counterparts by publicly calling for an investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since then, Australian exports to China — including coal, wheat and wine — have faced crippling obstacles.
The Australian government has moved to confront Beijing over allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has joined a chorus of state-run media highlighting Australia’s poor human rights record on refugees and Indigenous Australians.
But much of the war-like rhetoric from Australia is actually driven by domestic politics, said Yun Jiang, managing editor at the Australian National University’s Center on China in the World. The Morrison government is under pressure over allegations it has mishandled its Covid-19 vaccine rollout, and could be looking to shift the focus.
“Focusing on an external enemy has usually been quite effective in uniting public sentiment and rallying around the government,” she said. “I think it’s irresponsible for the government to talk it up like that. War is very serious business.”
The Australian government’s words, however, may reflect real concerns about the possibility of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan — a conflict that could ultimately involve the entire Asia region and even the US. But that terrifying prospect, said Yun, is likely why other US allies in closer proximity to Beijing’s sphere of influence, such as South Korea and Japan, aren’t echoing Canberra’s aggressive language.
China can’t stop talking about the Bill and Melinda Gates divorce
The divorce of Bill and Melinda Gates has sent shockwaves though China, where the Microsoft co-founder has achieved a level of fame unlike almost any other Western entrepreneur.
The “Bill Gates’ divorce” hashtag had generated more than 810 million views and 65,000 discussion posts on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo by Wednesday — far surpassing the 91 million views accumulated when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos divorced MacKenzie Scott in 2019.
Chinese Weibo users fretted about everything from how the couple would divide their massive fortune to whether the divorce would affect Microsoft or their foundation. Through their philanthropic organization, the pair have spent $53.8 billion on global health, poverty alleviation and other initiatives. (Bill Gates is worth about $146 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, and the couple has pledged to give the vast majority of their wealth away to charity.)
Even prominent tech figures in China joined the conversation: Kai-fu Lee — the former head of Google China, who helped establish Microsoft Research Lab Asia, a hugely influential network in China — said it was hard for him to believe the news. Bill and Melinda are “the most affectionate couple I’ve seen among celebrity entrepreneurs,” he said in a Weibo post.
The intense interest may, in part, be an unintentional result of Microsoft’s China strategy. While Bill Gates no longer runs Microsoft, the company has spent decades building goodwill with Beijing. Its products have a considerable presence in China, even as other Western tech companies have been locked out. And that’s likely contributed to Bill Gates’ personal draw — he now has more than 4.1 million followers on Weibo, outnumbering Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s 1.7 million and Apple chief Tim Cook’s 1.4 million.
— By Laura He
- An Indian court compared the death of Covid-19 patients due to oxygen shortages to “genocide.”
- The Pentagon is tracking a Chinese rocket set to reenter Earth’s atmosphere this weekend.
- Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte reportedly told his Cabinet that only he can swear in public, after a minister told China to “get the f**k out” of Philippines waters.
- New Zealand lawmakers will debate human rights abuses in Xinjiang Wednesday, but must avoid the word “genocide” at the ruling Labour Party’s insistence, says opposition party.
- Meanwhile in China, the number of women who say they regret getting married has more than doubled since 2012, according to a new government survey.
EU-China deal on a razor’s edge
But the devil is in the details, especially when those details have to be ratified by the European Parliament.
This was always going to be the hardest hurdle for the trade deal to clear, with many leading lawmakers stridently critical of China’s human rights records, and supposed safeguards against forced labor built in to the agreement.
Photo of the day
Getting back into shape: Acrobats perform at May Day holiday show on May 3, 2021 at a shopping center on the outskirts of Beijing, China. The country’s economy is showing signs of growth again now the coronavirus is largely under control.
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