Billionaire Andrew (Twiggy) Forrest has shrugged off criticism for inviting the Chinese consul general to a media conference with Health Minister Greg Hunt without the minister’s knowledge.
Mr Hunt and Mr Forrest held a joint media briefing on Wednesday to announce the mining magnate’s foundation had sourced 10 million COVID-19 testing kits.
But Mr Forrest also invited Victoria Consul General Long Zhou to address the media at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Melbourne.
He said Mr Long’s attendance was “a gesture of appreciation and friendship between our two great countries”. On Thursday, he refused to apologise for extending the invitation.
“I have to say – what a joke,” Mr Forrest told Today host Karl Stefanovic.
“This is the biggest non-story ever. Take a chill pill.
“Realise that there are families right across Australia who can put food on the table because we have got a great trading relationship with North America, even greater trading relationship with Japan, and even greater trading relationship with China.
“We should be everybody’s best friends. These fruit cakes running around saying – you know, ‘warmongering, you’re doing the wrong thing’… Be happy that you are eating this evening, mate.”
Mr Long’s appearance at Wednesday’s briefing came amid increasing tension between the two countries, with China openly criticising Australia, which is calling for an international inquiry into the origins of coronavirus.
Mr Long took the opportunity to talk up China’s response to the pandemic.
“The virus has, knows no ideology, border or race and in face of the epidemic the testings of all countries are closely interlinked. We’re all in this together,” he told assembled media.
Mr Hunt reportedly left the briefing abruptly after Mr Long spoke. Mr Forrest blamed the media for that.
“The minister did walk out, looking a bit grumpy. The media jumped all over that, amazing to watch,” he said.
“He looked a bit grumpy because a journo almost tried to trip him up to stop him leaving and ask him a whole heap of questions and he refused.”
Conservative government backbenchers, including Matt Canavan and Andrew Hastie, have criticised Mr Forrest’s action.
“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,” Mr Hastie told The Australian.
Former foreign minister Julie Bishop said China – which is on the United Nations security council – had an obligation to support an investigation into the virus, as the pandemic is a threat to international peace and security.
“This is no time for there to be threats or coercion by any nation against another because we are in the midst of a global pandemic,” she told Seven’s Sunrise on Thursday.
“There must be an investigation into how the virus got into human populations so we can be better prepared.”
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to back down on his push for a global coronavirus inquiry.
Ambassador Cheng Jingye has floated a Chinese consumer boycott of Australian products, including agriculture, education and tourism, in response to the probe.
The Chinese embassy also controversially released details of a private conversation with Australia’s top diplomat.
Chinese state media has launched a series of scathing attacks, with one likening Australia to gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe.
“After the epidemic, we need to have more risk awareness when doing business with Australia and also when we send our children to study there,” Global Times editor Hu Xijin wrote on Weibo.
“Australia is always there, making trouble. It is a bit like chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes. Sometimes you have to find a stone to rub it off.”