Is China provoking a diplomatic fight with Australia?

China has recently stepped up its aggression towards Australia, from introducing new customs taxes to trolling on Twitter. Relations between the two countries have rarely been so bad and, according to regional experts, the world should be paying attention to the way Beijing is treating Canberra.

When Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, posted a photo on Twitter from an official government account on November 30, Australia was aghast. The picture appears to show a grinning Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to the throat of an Afghan child who is holding a lamb.

Zhao posted the image accompanied by a tweet saying he was “shocked by the murder of Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian soldiers”.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reacted immediately, demanding an apology from the Chinese government. Morrison also demanded that Twitter remove the image.

But Twitter refused to delete the tweet, instead releasing a statement saying that Zhao’s account was labelled an official government account – which it said provided the public with enough context to “inform their interpretation of its intent”.

“For world leaders, politicians, and official government accounts, direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy sabre-rattling on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter Rules,” the statement said. 

Twitter also said the image had been marked as “sensitive media”. But as of 3pm CET on Tuesday, the tweet – which is pinned to the top of Zhao’s account – had no such notification.

Morrison said the image had been doctored and said it was “utterly outrageous” and “deeply offensive for every Australian”.

“It cannot be justified on any basis whatsoever. The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes,” Morrison told a news conference on Monday afternoon.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern offered her support to Australia on Tuesday, saying the image warranted her government making its own protest to China.

New Zealand has registered directly with Chinese authorities our concern over the use of that image,” Arden told reporters in Wellington on Tuesday. “It was an un-factual post and, of course, that would concern us so that is something we’ve raised directly,” she said. 

“While that is an exchange that’s happening between Australia and China, it will of course tip into spaces where as a general principle we may have concerns and will raise those,” she continued. “In this case an image has been used that is not factually correct. It’s not a genuine image so we have raised that directly with Chinese authorities.”

Relations ‘have never been as bad’

This latest provocation from Zhao, one of a number of Chinese diplomats known for making dramatic declarations, “represents the most offensive statement that can be made at the moment for Canberra because it touches a very sensitive point in Australia”, said John Lee, an analyst at Merics (Mercator Institute for China Studies), who spoke to FRANCE 24. This tweet is connected to a damning investigation by Australian military’s own inspector general issued on November 19 that concluded elite special forces had “unlawfully killed” at least 39 civilians and Afghan prisoners.

But what does that atrocity have to do with China? Nothing, it would seem, apart from giving fresh ammunition to Zhao to exacerbate increasingly conflicted Sino-Australian relations.

“They have never been as bad as they are now,” said Heribert Dieter, a specialist on Australia and geopolitical issues at the German Institute for International Affairs, speaking with FRANCE 24.

This current escalation kicked off early in 2020, when Australia was the first country to call for an independent investigation to determine the origin of the coronavirus epidemic. “This offended Beijing all the more since Australia first made it through the media, apparently without going through the usual diplomatic channels,” said Lee.

Since then China has repeatedly imposed customs taxes on Australian exports, targeting barley, wine, beef and seafood. In November, the Chinese embassy issued a detailed dossier of 14 complaints against Australia following their extended diplomatic dispute over trade.

China criticises what it describes as Australian government subsidies to “anti-Chinese” research projects, Canberra’s condemnation of Chinese policy in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and the Australian authorities’ veto of a dozen Chinese investment projects in Australia.

“China is angry. If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy,” a Chinese government official is quoted as saying at a briefing with a Sydney Morning Herald reporter in Canberra on November 18.

Culmination of four years of tension

This new series of diplomatic-commercial tensions is the culmination of nearly four years of progressive deterioration in relations between the two countries.

“In 2016, the controversy in Australia over the granting of a 99-year lease to a Chinese company to manage Darwin Port (which is close to a US military base) was one of the first signs of future problems between the two countries,” said Lee.

Ever since, Australia has often been among the first to denounce Chinese actions in a number of different areas.

“They banned Huawei from developing its 5G network in Australia as early as 2018, they were the first to label Chinese actions in the China Sea as illegal and then they put early pressure for an independent investigation into the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Patrick Köllner, vice-president of the GIGA Institute for Asian Studies (German Institute for Global and Regional Studies), speaking with FRANCE 24. 

Added to this, there was “a very blatant good-versus-evil way of representing the Chinese threat by Australia’s Murdoch media empire”, he continued.

Australia was “the first major country to adapt its diplomacy to the new way in which Xi Jinping’s China approaches international relations”, said Köllner. Canberra saw Beijing become more aggressive on the international stage, felt threatened and bared its own claws.

Australia also became the first major nation to pay the price. But it has also become collateral damage in the power struggle between China and the United States.

“In the context of this rivalry, the pressure exerted by Beijing can also be seen as a way of trying to influence the decisions of one of Washington’s main allies in the region,” said Lee.

Paris or Berlin next?

For Australia, China’s attitude towards them must be challenged by the rest of the world. “The rapid deterioration in the relationship between Beijing and Canberra is much more than a bilateral affair,” said the Financial Times in a November 26 editorial. For the British financial daily, “all democratic countries should watch this conflict closely and be prepared to support each other in pushing back against Chinese pressure”. 

“The idea is that China are using Australia as an example. They could be using Australia to send a signal to other countries who might be tempted to criticise Beijing,” said Köllner.

“We should not delude ourselves. After Canberra, Beijing could take on Berlin or Paris,” agreed Dieter. He said this offensive against Australia illustrated “for the first time how Beijing is trying to control the way people talk about China in large developed countries”.

It seems highly likely that the famous 14-point list included strong criticism of the Australian media coverage of Chinese news. “Unable to tolerate free speech at home, Beijing now appears intent on controlling speech overseas as well,” wrote the Financial Times.

But it is important to recognise that Australia is not France or Germany. “It is a country that is specifically vulnerable to Chinese pressure,” said Lee. More than 40 percent of Australia’s exports go to China. “Australia does not have many alternative markets for some of its products,” he said.

Other nations, particularly European countries, are less dependent on trade from the Asian superpower. But all the specialists questioned by FRANCE 24 agree that Australia’s recent experiences must be of international concern.

For Köllner, Australia’s trade conflict with China has clearly highlighted the stark choices world leaders face: “Either we want to continue to benefit economically from trade with China at the risk of having to silence critics and free speech, or we must start to find alternatives.”

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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Australia demands China apologise after ‘repugnant’ fake image posted on Twitter

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Australia demanded an apology after a senior Chinese official posted a fake image of an Australian soldier holding a knife with blood on it to the throat of an Afghan child, calling it “truly repugnant” and demanding it be taken down.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison called a media briefing to condemn the posting of the image, marking another downturn in deteriorating relations between the two countries.

The Australian government has asked Twitter to remove the image, posted on Monday by China‘s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on his official Twitter account, Morrison said.

“It is utterly outrageous and cannot be justified on any basis,” Morrison said. “The Chinese government should be utterly ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes.”

Australia has told 13 special forces soldiers they face dismissal in relation to an independent report on alleged unlawful killings in Afghanistan, the head of the country’s army said on Friday.

“It is the Australian government who should feel ashamed for their soldiers killing innocent Afghan civilians,” said Hua Chunying, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, when asked about Morrison’s comments.

The image posted by her colleague shows people’s “indignation,” said Hua, speaking at a regular news conference in Beijing on Monday. Whether it will be taken down is a matter between Twitter and the Australian government, she said.

Australia’s relationship with China has deteriorated since Canberra called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, China outlined a list of grievances about Australia’s foreign investment, national security and human rights policy, saying Canberra needed to correct its actions to restore the bilateral relationship with its largest trading partner.

Morrison said countries around the world were watching how Beijing responded to tensions in Australia’s relationship with China.

In the latest in a series of trade sanctions, China announced on Friday it will impose temporary anti-dumping tariffs of up to 212.1% on wine imported from Australia, a move Canberra has labelled unjustified and linked to diplomatic grievances.

Zhao wrote on Twitter: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable.”

His Twitter account had posted the same message, but without the fake image of the soldier and child, on Friday.

Morrison said Australia had established a “transparent and honest” process for investigating the allegations against the accused soldiers and this “is what a free, democratic, liberal country does”.

Australia had “patiently sought” to address tensions in the relationship with China and wanted direct discussion between ministers, he said.


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Listen to Indigenous Podcasts – The New York Times

The Indigenous people of the land now called North America are often only brought up in the past tense in primary school classrooms. The fact is they are a growing population, an increasing demographic in the country and in Congress, yet most Americans are woefully uninformed about their histories and present-day struggles. Podcasts can help fill in the gaps, and there are plenty of shows made by Indigenous people. Don’t know where to start? Native podcast-makers recommend their favorites.

Michael Kickingbear, an enrolled member of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and co-host of the current affairs show, “Native Opinion,” recommends “Let’s Talk Native, With John Kane.” Each episode is mostly a monologue by the Mohawk activist and educator John Kane, always speaking “truth to power on political and social justice issues,” Mr. Kickingbear said. To learn how young Indigenous people think about the world around them, Mr. Kickingbear turns to “The Red Nation Podcast,” which he called “my weekly dose of ‘Energy and Youthism’ from Indian country.”

Another show on Mr. Kickingbear’s list is the mother-daughter podcast “Coffee With My Ma.” The host, Kaniehtiio Horn, a First Nations actress, spends each episode interviewing her “Radical Activist Mother,” Kahentinetha Horn, a prominent Mohawk activist and hilarious woman whose life has led her into some unbelievable adventures. “I love this podcast because of the experiences of her mother, and the loose playful format,” Mr. Kickingbear said. “You truly feel like you are sitting in their living room as ‘Ma’ tells us stories of her life.”

For an easily accessible primer on the history of land theft in Native America, Andi Murphy recommends “This Land,” from Crooked Media. Murphy, a Diné (Navajo) writer who has her own podcast (“Toasted Sister,” about Native American food), calls “This Land” an “intro course to Indian law and policy.” The narrative series taps Indigenous legal experts and uses music to showcase how a 1999 murder case sparked a 2020 Supreme Court ruling on tribal sovereignty; listening to it made Murphy feel “indignant all over again about the atrocities committed against Cherokee, and other tribes, during colonization.”

Connie Walker, who is Cree from the Okanese First Nation and a reporter for Spotify’s Gimlet Media, loves “The Secret Life of Canada” by the CBC for the illusions it dispels about the country’s reputation for progressive policy. “For a lot of people, especially Indigenous and other marginalized communities, the truth is much more complicated,” she said. Ms. Walker, who hosted the acclaimed true crime seriesMissing and Murdered: Finding Cleo,” said the CBC show “shines a light on the history that we did not learn in school, and reveals important truths that, in this era of ‘reconciliation,’ are crucial to understand and acknowledge.”

One of the hosts of “The Secret Life of Canada,” Falen Johnson, finds inspiration for her own show in the true crime series “Return to Thunder Bay.” Ms. Johnson, who is Mohawk and Tuscarora from Six Nations, the largest First Nations reserve in Canada, sees each episode of this series as a challenging but necessary call to action. “The show sheds a light on corruption, systematic racism and violence in this Northern Ontario town,” she said.

Matika Wilbur, a photographer and member of the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes, was kept company by “The Cuts” and its host Sterlin Harjo during a lonely time in her life: while she was on the road working on Project 562, a documentary series in which she set out to take a photograph of at least one person from each of the 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States. “I’d find myself playing the episodes when I was traveling on long, lonely roads or while walking through airports, as I was living in transit,” Ms. Wilbur said. “Sterlin’s jokes, and the Native folks that he had on the series, all offered great comfort. They made me feel like I was at home and less alone in spaces where I felt like the only Native person in the room.” Ms. Harjo’s work inspired her own much-recommended podcast, “All My Relations”: “I wanted our people to feel represented in the pod space, and to provide more opportunities for our people to hear about issues they care about.”

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Turkish court jails more than 300 people for life over failed 2016 coup

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A Turkish court jailed 337 former pilots and other suspects for life in one of the largest trials stemming from the bloody 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim preacher who was once an Erdogan ally, is accused of ordering the failed putsch. Gulen, whose movement has been proscribed as a terrorist group by Ankara, strongly denies all charges.

A total of 251 people died and more than 2,000 were injured in what has turned into the defining moment of Erdogan’s rule and contemporary Turkish politics.

The country’s largest courtroom was packed with dozens of security personnel and lawyers and the presiding judge ordered one protesting defendant to “Sit down!” several times before reading the verdict.

He handed down multiple life sentences to disgruntled air force pilots who bombed the capital Ankara and civilians who orchestrated the coup attempt from inside the Akinci military base near the capital.

Court documents obtained by AFP showed 337 defendants handed life sentences for murder, violating the constitutional order and attempting to assassinate Erdogan.

Sixty suspects were given jail sentences of various lengths while 75 were acquitted.

The full verdict is expected to be officially published later Thursday.

‘Justice has been served’ 

“Justice has been served,” Ufuk Yegin, who represents a victims’ families association, told AFP.

“We believe the punishments were given in accordance with existing laws.”

The then chief of staff general Hulusi Akar — now the defence minister — and other top commanders were held hostage at the military base overnight before their rescue on the morning of July 16, 2016.

F-16 fighter jets struck the parliament building, the road near the presidential palace and the headquarters of the special forces and the Ankara police.

Erdogan was on vacation in southern Turkey at the time.

The bombs killed 68 people in the capital and injured more than 200. Nine civilians also died trying to stop the plotters at the entrance to the base.

Gulen, Adil Oksuz — a theology lecturer who officials claim was a key coordinator of what was happening on the ground — and four others are being tried in absentia.

Oksuz was detained shortly after the coup bid but released later and is now on the run.

2,500 life sentences 

Thursday’s verdict culminates a trial that began in August 2017 involving a total of 475 suspects.

Businessman Kemal Batmaz, accused of assisting Oksuz, was among dozens of defendants handed multiple aggravated life sentences for playing leading roles in Erdogan’s attempted overthrow.

An aggravated life sentence has tougher terms of detention and replaced the death penalty after it was abolished in 2004 as part of Turkey’s drive to join the European Union.

The putsch bid was stamped out quickly, but its legacy still haunts Turkey.

A fierce government crackdown that followed has muzzled the media and seen tens of thousands arrested in nationwide raids.

More than 100,000 public sector employees, including teachers and judges, were sacked or suspended because of their suspected links to Gulen.

These arrests continue, although they are less sweeping.

Despite the large number of suspects, a separate coup-related trial is even bigger, focusing on the presidential guard’s activities and involving 521 suspects.

Ten of a total 289 trials into the failed overthrow of Erdogan are still under way, Anadolu reported.

More than 2,800 people have been jailed for life, with judges convicting nearly 4,500 suspects since July 2016.


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French authorities charge four more students over beheading of Samuel Paty

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Four teenage students have been charged in France over the killing of Samuel Paty, a judicial source said Thursday, including three for allegedly pointing out the teacher to his murderer. 

Three other pupils were charged with complicity earlier this month over the beheading last month of Paty, who had shown his students cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed as part of a lesson on free speech.

Three of the four students charged Thursday were suspected of identifying Paty to his killer, 18-year-old Abdullakh Anzorov, who then tracked him down and beheaded him in a street near his school.

The three, who are between 13 and 14 years old, are being charged with “complicity in a terrorist murder,” the source said.

The fourth is the daughter of the parent who launched a virulent online campaign against Paty denouncing the teacher’s use of the cartoons published by satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

She has been charged with “slanderous denunciation” of Paty after relating her version of events in the classroom, though she did not actually attend his civics lesson.

Paty’s murder sparked a torrent of outrage that prompted President Emmanuel Macron to crack down on Islamist extremism and violence in a country reeling from a wave of jihadist attacks since 2015 that have killed more than 250 people.


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Covid-19 pandemic triggers global spike in violence against women

No country has been spared the coronavirus epidemic, nor the scourge of domestic violence, which has surged during lockdowns as the day marking such violence approaches on Wednesday.

From a spike in rapes in Nigeria and South Africa, increased numbers of women missing in Peru, higher rates of women being killed in Brazil and Mexico and overwhelmed associations in Europe: the pandemic has aggravated the plague of sexual violence.

According to UN data released in late September, lockdowns have led to increases in complaints or calls to report domestic abuse of 25 percent in Argentina, 30 percent in Cyprus and France and 33 percent in Singapore.

In essentially all countries, measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus have resulted in woman and children being confined at home.

“The house is the most dangerous place for women,” Moroccan associations noted in April as they pressed authorities for “an emergency response”.

In India, Heena — not her real name — a 33-year-old cook who lives in Mumbai, said she felt “trapped in my house” with a husband who did not work, consumed drugs and was violent.

As she described what she had endured, she frequently broke down in tears.

After buying drugs, “he would spend the rest of his day either hooked to his phone playing PubG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) or beating me up and abusing me,” she told AFP by telephone.

Insufficient measures

On August 15, her husband beat Heena worse than before, in front of their seven-year-old son, and threw her out of the house at 3:00 am.

“I had nowhere to go,” she said. “I could barely move my body — he beat me to pulp, my body was swollen.”

Instead of going to the police, she made it to a friend’s home and then to her parents.

She is now fighting for custody of her son, “but courts are not working in full capacity due to Covid”.

She has not seen her son in four months, though he manages to call her in secret from time to time.

It is not the just the courts that are hobbled by the virus. The closure of businesses and schools, as well as cultural and athletic activities, have deprived victims already weakened by economic insecurity of ways to escape violence.

Hanaa Edwar of the Iraqi Women’s Network, told AFP there had been “a dangerous deterioration in the socioeconomic situation for families following the lockdown, with more families going into poverty, which leads to violent reactions”.

In Brazil, 648 murders of women were recorded in the first half of the year, a small increase from the same period in 2019 according to the Brazilian Forum for Public Security.

While the government has launched a campaign to encourage women to file complaints, the forum says that measures designed to help victims remain insufficient.


Worldwide, the United Nations says that only one country in eight has taken measures to lessen the pandemic’s impact on women and children.

In  Spain, victims could discreetly ask for help in pharmacies by using the code “mask-19”, and some French associations established contact points in supermarkets.

“The women who came to us were in situations that had become unbearable, dangerous,” said Sophie Cartron, assistant director of an association that worked in a shopping mall near Paris.

“The lockdown established a wall of silence,” she said.

Mobilisation on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women remains uncertain owing to restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Marches for women’s rights have nevertheless taken place recently in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Liberia, Namibia and Romania.

“We will not be able to demonstrate to express our anger, or march together,” said the Paris-based feminist group Family Planning.

“But we will make ourselves heard all the same, virtually and visually.”

Tamara Mathebula of the South African Commission for Gender Equality described a chronic “toxic masculinity” that was “everywhere you look”.

“There are gender pay gaps which are widening and continue to widen during the Covid-19 pandemic,” she told AFP.

“Gender-based violence worsened” as a result, she said, and the potential consequences were very serious.

In July, the UN estimated that six months of restrictions could result in 31 million additional cases of sexual violence in the world and seven million unwanted pregnancies.

The situation was also undermining the fight against female genital mutilation and forced marriages, the UN warned.




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Frenchman sentenced to 25 years for killing wife, burning her body

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A French court Saturday sentenced Jonathann Daval to 25 years in prison for killing his wife and then burning her body, in a case that shocked the country. 

The 36-year-old Frenchman was impassive as the verdict was read out. He turned to look at members of his own family who were present.

Earlier, he had said “Sorry, Sorry” in the dock, looking towards his wife’s parents.

Daval finally confessed to beating his wife to death and burning her body in the woods after initially reporting her missing.

The charred remains of Alexia Daval were found hidden under branches near their town of Gray-la-Ville in eastern France in October 2017.

Daval initially said Alexia, a 29-year-old bank employee, had gone jogging and never came back.

Jean-Pierre Fouillot, Alexia’s father, passed an arm around the shoulders of his wife Isabelle as the court’s decision was delivered.

A few minutes later the mother, Isabelle Fouillot, went out to talk to reporters, as she had done throughout the trial.

“It is a very good decision, exactly what I hoped, at the height of our suffering. That will allow us to turn a page,” she said.

‘Almost perfect conjugal crime’

Defence lawyer Ornella Spatafora swiftly indicated that there would be no appeal against the sentence.

Outside the courthouse dozens of people were pressed against the barriers blocking access to it.

Prosecutors had asked for a life sentence calling the 2017 murder “an almost perfect conjugal crime.”

After his wife’s death, Duval had cut a distraught figure, appearing in tears at a press conference with his in-laws and leading one of several events organised countrywide in her memory.

Three months later, prosecutors said the IT worker confessed to the murder — admitting he had beaten his wife in a heated argument, knocking her face against a concrete wall, and strangling her.

He initially denied setting fire to her body, but finally admitted to that too, in June last year.

Daval changed his story several times, at one point withdrawing his confession, blaming his brother-in-law, and finally admitting to everything all over again.

On Monday, when asked by the judge whether he admitted to “being the only person implicated in the death” of his wife, Daval replied “yes”, appearing close to tears.

The crime deeply shocked France, and nearly 10,000 people turned out in the couple’s quiet town for a silent march in her memory.

The murder highlighted the scourge of violence against women at the height of the global #MeToo campaign against sexual abuse and harassment of women.

On Monday, French authorities said 125,840 women were victims of domestic violence in 2019. Another 146 were murdered by their partner or ex-partner — 25 more than the previous year.


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American hero recalls tackling Thalys train attacker

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One of three Americans