What do a prominent Hong Kong democracy activist, the former prime minister of Sweden and more than 200 parliamentarians from 19 different countries have in common?
They’re all drinking Australian wine to “stand against authoritarian bullying” in response to brutal trade tariffs slapped on the country by China amid an escalating diplomatic standoff.
Overnight, members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a group comprising more than 200 MPs from 19 different countries which aims to achieve “reform on how democratic countries approach China”, launched a campaign to encourage people to drink Australian wine in December.
It follows Beijing’s decision to impose trade tariffs of up to 200% on Australian winemakers, a decision that the trade minister Simon Birmingham has said will make the China “unviable” for exporters.
In a short video, parliamentarians from a host of countries including the US, UK, Germany, Japan, Italy, New Zealand and Norway said Beijing’s decision to impose devastating import tariffs on Australian winemakers amounted to “authoritarian bullying”.
In the video, Labor senator Kimberley Kitching accused China of attempting to “bully” Australia into “abandoning its values”, saying the list of 14 grievances circulated by Beijing amounted to “an attack on free countries everywhere”.
Miriam Lexmann – a Slovakian member of the Christian Democratic Movement who sits in the European Parliament – said the campaign to drink Australian wine was an attempt to “stand against Xi Jinping’s authoritarian bullying”.
On Twitter, the video prompted support from other high-profile China critics. Nathan Law, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy activists who fled to the UK in September following Beijing’s crackdown on the country, said he had been “moved” to buy a bottle of Australian wine despite the fact that he didn’t “really drink”.
Similarly, Raymond Chan, a former Hong Kong parliamentarian who quit the country’s legislature earlier this year after he was one of seven pro-democracy politicians arrested for disrupting parliament, also weighed in to support the campaign.
“Not much of a wine drinker myself, but as my friend Louisa Wall & other MPs suggest, perhaps I can buy a few bottles as gifts to my lawyer friends who defended #HongKong protesters all year long,” Chan wrote on Twitter.
“They deserve some fine Australian wine this holiday season. Cheers.”
That followed earlier support from figures including former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, who wrote that it was “not a bad idea to buy some extra wine these days to show solidarity”.
Bildt, now co-chair of the European council on foreign relations, said China was attempting to “weaponise trade in its political disputes” with Australia.
“Other countries must take note of the dangers in this development,” he wrote.
“It’s highly likely to backfire on [China].”
But whether the campaign to back Australia in its increasingly tense diplomatic standoff with China will be anything more than symbolic remains to be seen.
Last week the Chinese ministry of commerce said its investigation, first announced in late August, had determined Australian wine was being dumped in China, and this had caused “substantial damage” to the domestic industry.
China is Australia’s biggest wine export market, receiving about 37% of Australian wine exports, worth more than $800m.
Australia has disputed the accusation, and has indicated it may take the matter to the World Trade Organization.
The relationship between the two countries has deteriorated rapidly since China announced tariffs on Australian barley in May, a move widely interpreted as a retaliation to Australia’s call for a global investigation into the origins of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Most recently, the countries have endured a dramatic fallout after the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, demanded the Chinese government apologise and take down a “repugnant” foreign ministry tweet that depicted an Australian soldier cutting the throat of a civilian in Afghanistan.