Photo of Chinese sailors with Australian baby food triggers row

Chinese state media has dismissed as “overreaction” after a photograph and story were published over the weekend in an Australian newspaper showing visiting People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy sailors unloading dozens of boxes of baby formula onto their warship at the Sydney harbour.

The photo triggered a recall of the massive baby food scandal in China 10 years ago when more than 50000 children were hospitalised after being given contaminated baby formula produced in the country.

Following the case of mass poisoning of children, milk and baby foods from abroad have become sought after commodities in China.

“Stealth mission finally revealed: Chinese warships on baby milk raid” was the headline carried by newspaper, The Australian.

The nationalistic tabloid, Global Times, reacted quickly.

“More than 700 sailors visited Australia. An anonymous source told the Global Times that some 50 boxes of baby formula were on board, which were bought by some sailors in need. The source said it is an exaggeration to define the normal purchase a ‘stealth mission’,” the tabloid wrote.

“The hype over the baby formula purchase is similar to the hype over the ‘China threat theory’ or exaggerating certain facts to mislead readers,” another anonymous source told the tabloid.

“According to military insiders and personal experience of the Global Times reporter, it is normal for the naval crew of different countries to visit local attractions and purchase local products when the warship berths in a foreign land.”

It didn’t help that the three warships – Kunlunshan, Xuchang, and Luomahu – arrived at the harbour on June 3, the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen movement and, apparently, the local government wasn’t aware until the ships docked.

“There’s actually a serious point to this. China confidently projects power abroad with advanced warships, yet the crew openly demonstrate a lack of confidence in the food safety regulations of their own country – a point Global Times cannot help but acknowledge,” tweeted Rory Medcalf, professor and head of National Security College, Australian National University.

First Published:
Jun 11, 2019 19:02 IST

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