The two (media) sides of Premier Li Keqiang’s Australian visit

Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull welcomed Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China Li Keqiang to Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 23 March 2017. Pool Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew MearesBeijing: Chinese media have blown hot and cold on Australia as Premier Li Keqiang arrived for a five-day visit.

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To its English language audience of diplomats and business people, the state tabloid Global Times has raised the prospect of cheap Chinese infrastructure opening up Australia’s deserted north.

To its mass Chinese audience though, the same media company has complained of Australian naggers and nitpickers over the South China Sea and human rights.

The newspaper reported on its English-language front page that Premier Li Keqiang’s visit comes as China eyes an opportunity for broader ties with Australiawhile the United States withdraws from globalisation.

Australia’s Northern Territory was likened to China’s west, sparse in population and lacking infrastructure.

Chinese economists told the newspaper China could provide low-cost infrastructure for Australia’s northern state. They cited a 2015 Australian government report that outlined a vision for more roads, water resources and a sustainable workforce in the Northern Territory.

China is seeking Australian government support for its Belt and Road plan, which offers Chinese financial backing for construction projects along key overland trade routes between China and Europe, and by sea to Africa. It has been proposed Northern Australia be included in the program.

Han Feng, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the paper that he believed Australia was “trying to be more independent in foreign policy, trying to rely less on the US and its allies from Europe”.

He said Canberra would “remain in the West’s camp” but the lines of the old Cold war ideological camps were starting to blur, and the room for cooperation between China and Australia was rising.

Nit-pickers and naggers

The Chinese language version of The Global Times, a high-circulating, outspoken and often hawkish tabloid, meanwhile ran an editorial that was more critical.

The editorial said the image of Australia had risen in the Chinese public’s mind since Australia “has remarkably lowered its tone on South China Sea”.

It highlighted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s difficult phone call with US President Donald Trump. But the editorial said Chinese scholars don’t believe the international reports that Canberra might be willing to get closer to Beijing as a result of discord with the US.

“Generally speaking, Chinese people never expected Australia becoming a ‘firm friend’ of China. It is close to the US in politics and security, which we understand. But we indeed hope Australia could be a ‘normal friend’, rather than easily and brutally disliking China and expressing its indifference… to Sino-Australia relationship,” the editorial said.

It said Australia is a long distance away from China and there is no chance of confrontation. Australia was a “moderate power”, while China was growing stronger.

“At most, it has produced a few naggers who nit-pick China from ideological perspective,” the editorial said.