Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt was blindsided at a press conference with mining billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest on Wednesday when Forrest unexpectedly brought a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official, Consul-General for Victoria Zhou Long, onto the stage.
Zhou proceeded to attack the Australian government for criticizing the CCP’s handling of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
The Australian Foreign Ministry and the office of Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed they were not told in advance that Zhou would appear at the Commonwealth Parliament Offices in Melbourne, where Forrest announced that his Minderoo Foundation has purchased 10 million coronavirus testing kits from China. Chinese-made coronavirus test kits have a dismal track record of poor quality, but if Forrest’s tests work correctly, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) estimated they would improve Australia’s ability to test for the coronavirus by a factor of twenty.
SBS News reported that Forrest’s joint press conference with Hunt to announce the test kit purchase was “overshadowed by the surprise appearance of Victoria’s Chinese consul-general Zhou Long.”
Zhou took the microphone to repeat the standard CCP party line that the Wuhan coronavirus “knows no ideology, border or race and in the face of the epidemic the testings of all countries are closely interlinked.”
The Daily Mail reported on the “extraordinary” spectacle of a Chinese diplomat “hijacking” an Australian press conference:
Mr Zhou was not allowed to take questions, but took the opportunity to praise Beijing’s handling of the crisis.
In particular, he credited the ‘open, transparent and responsible’ manner with which China had worked alongside the World Health Organisation.
‘The Chinese government has released information related to COVID-19 in open, transparent and a responsible manner,’ he said.
‘We have worked closely with the WHO and other countries. Including sharing experiences … and providing assistance within our capacity.
‘China very much appreciates and is thankful to the compassion, support and sympathy of the Australian people.’
According to SBS News, Forrest was criticized by “several members” of the Australian government for helping “the Chinese Communist Party to ambush a Commonwealth press conference.”
The SMH more favorably described Forrest and Zhou’s stunt as an “audacious bid to mend a deteriorating political relationship between Beijing and Canberra,” which is deteriorating because Australia insists on investigating the origins of the coronavirus and the conduct of the CCP-influenced World Health Organization (W.H.O.).
The SMH noted Forrest is firmly on Beijing’s side in the dispute, and he has some support from Australian politicians and government officials:
Government sources said the hijacking of the press conference could work in Australia’s favor by demonstrating it was willing to put a week of escalating tensions behind it.
Mr Forrest, who has made significant investments in China through iron ore, urged Australia and global health authorities to delay any inquiry into the virus until after the US election in November and said it should not just be focused on China.
“That would make it instantly political,” he said. “Australia needs to walk that line where we have a best friend in America, a best friend in China, best friends across South-East Asia.”
Several Liberal Party members of parliament criticized the stunt. James Paterson of Victoria said Forrest “is worth listening to on how to run a successful mining company. I don’t think the government will be following his advice on foreign policy.”
Another Liberal MP named Tim Wilson noted it is a “pretty basic expectation for Australians to be loyal and back their own, not invite a platform for a foreign spokesperson.”
Liberal Andrew Hastie, chair of the parliamentary intelligence committee, used pithy terms to express most of his party’s displeasure with Forrest, saying, “This guy drops out of the sky in his private jet and enables the Chinese Communist Party to ambush a Commonwealth press conference. Yeah, we’re not happy.”
Hastie spent Wednesday trading punches with opposition spokeswoman Madeleine King, who essentially accused him of being an isolationist ideologue and argued Australia simply cannot afford to disengage from China. Hastie fired back by calling her “Muddled Madeleine” and saying she was “asleep at the wheel on China.”
Australia’s News.com recounted a Thursday morning interview in which Forrest thought the whole controversy was hilarious:
Appearing on Nine’s Today on Thursday morning, a grinning Mr Forrest was – very gently – quizzed by host Karl Stefanovic about his actions.
“Greg Hunt looked like someone stole his Tonka toys,” Stefanovic joked.
“Twiggy, you big trouble maker. It was labelled as an ambush and you were accused of hijacking a press conference. You didn’t tell the PM’s office and Foreign Minister’s office, it’s like you performed an act of treason.”
“I have to say, what a joke,” Mr Forrest said.
“What a scream. I’m the most Australian person I know. Anyone who wants to put America first, they are putting Australia second. I put Australia first.”
Mr Forrest said he brought the Chinese diplomat along because China had “stepped up” to help with PPE and testing kits. “This is the biggest non-story ever,” he said.
“Take a chill pill, realise that America is going to act in its interests first. China has every (right to act in their) interest and we act for Australia. There are families right across Australia who can put food on the table because we have a great trading relationship with North America … and an even greater trading relationship with China.”
Mr Forrest said “we should be everybody’s best friends”. “These fruitcakes running around saying – you know, war mongering … are doing the wrong thing. Be happy that you are eating this evening, mate. Enjoy your meal.”
News.com quoted Australian broadcaster Gareth Parker recalling that Forrest has arranged surprise Chinese guests for press conferences before, saying, “This was the same trick Andrew Forrest pulled when announcing he’d secured medical supplies for WA [Western Australia]. He invited Chinese consul Madam Dong to joint presser w/Health Minister Roger Cook without WA Govt’s knowledge.”
On Thursday, Hunt and Forrest canceled a joint event to announce $67 million in funding for child cancer treatments. The Australian government gave no reason for canceling the event on short notice, but emailed a press release that promised its partnership with the Minderoo Foundation would “ensure every child in Australia with cancer will have access to life-saving treatment.”
“The announcement was issued by media release so as not to distract focus from the importance of this life-saving program for children,” said a spokesman for Hunt, rather clearly alluding to the flap over Zhou’s press conference ambush.
Financial Review reported on Thursday that the Australian government is facing considerable pressure from the mining industry and other business tycoons to drop its inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus and make amends with the Chinese Communist Party. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull found this unsurprising.
“An Australian prime minister who ends up in conflict with China cannot expect any support or solidarity from the Australian business community. Overwhelmingly, they’re totally invested in the economic benefits of the relationship…” #abiggerpicture https://t.co/hzmYG2f7DB
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) April 29, 2020
Australians, Americans, and the citizens of other Western nations should prepare for more globalist billionaires to embrace the Chinese Communist Party’s political narrative of the coronavirus epidemic. “Twiggy” Forrest was not the first, and he will not be the last.
Prime Minister Morrison on Wednesday stood firm on his push to investigate the coronavirus, despite the pressure from Forrest and his colleagues, and Chinese threats to boycott Australian products in retaliation.