Scott Morrison COP26 gaffe goes viral on Chinese social media

A video of Prime Minister Scott Morrison slipping up at a COP26 address about climate change in Glasgow has gone viral on Chinese social media website Weibo.

Key points:

  • Scott Morrison accidentally said “China” instead of “climate change” during a speech in Glasgow 
  • A hashtag about the gaffe has attracted millions of clicks on Chinese social media Weibo
  • The Prime Minister was previously attacked by netizens for demanding an apology from a Chinese official

Mr Morrison mistakenly said in the speech on Tuesday “global momentum to tackle China”, when he instead meant to say “climate change”.

The hashtag “Australian Prime Minister Misrepresents Tackling Climate Change As Tackling China” has so far been seen more than 130 million times on Weibo.

A social media post from Chinese state media outlet Guancha.com mocked Mr Morrison’s mistake and said in a post: “[His] head is full of China.”

It has been shared nearly 2,000 times and liked by more than 10,000 users.

“No way it’s a slip of the tongue, it’s just speaking out of his mind,” a Weibo user said.

In a subsequent opinion piece from Guancha.com, the state media outlet took aim at the Prime Minister’s accidental remarks and Australia’s climate policy.

“He doesn’t have a passion to protect the environment but does have anti-China passion under the name of protecting environment,” the opinion piece said.

“This episode is the actual reflection of his mind.”

Scott Morrison took the Australian government’s net zero emissions by 2050 policy to Glasgow. (Alastair Grant/Pool via Reuters)

The ABC approached the Prime Minister’s office, but it declined to comment.

Mr Morrison used his speech in Scotland to reaffirm the Australian government’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.

He also announced the government would increase Australia’s climate finance commitment to Pacific and South-East Asian neighbours by $500 million to a total of $2 billion. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, did not attend the Glasgow summit and both countries, as well as Australia and India, strongly opposed a more ambitious plan to phase out coal in the 2030s.  

Australia trending on Chinese social media again

It is not the first time Chinese internet users have seized on Mr Morrison’s comments. 

The Prime Minister demanded an apology from Zhao Lijian in 2020 after the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman posted a doctored image of an Australian soldier holding a knife to an Afghan child’s throat.

Scott Morrison has previously been targeted by Chinese social media users.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

The Australian embassy in Beijing shared Mr Morrison’s demand for an apology on Weibo where it attracted 20,000 mostly pro-Beijing comments.

Mr Morrison also slipped up earlier this year on another China-related matter, when he mistakenly referred to a “One Country Two Systems” policy for Taiwan in a radio interview.

“One Country Two Systems” describes the way Beijing governs Hong Kong — not Taiwan.

Although Beijing has proposed the same semi-autonomous framework for Taiwan, the Taiwanese have roundly rejected it. 

Australia recognises a “One China” policy when it comes to Hong Kong, although Beijing wants to apply a “One Country Two Systems framework to Taiwan as well.

Tensions have been strained between Australia and China for some time, with Beijing most recently weighing into Australia’s diplomatic spat with France over the AUKUS alliance. 

State broadcaster CGTN said Mr Morrison had developed a reputation for being “a person whose words cannot be trusted” and of pursing short-term political goals with “scant concern for the consequences”.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said unease about the nuclear-powered submarine agreement reached further than France.

“I want to stress that the AUKUS nuclear submarine cooperation is not just a diplomatic spat between a few countries, but a serious matter that will create risks of nuclear proliferation and undermine regional peace and stability,” he said.

The Australian government has said it will not acquire nuclear weapons and has stressed the submarines will not carry nuclear warheads.  

The Pentagon recently warned China was growing its nuclear arsenal faster than expected, although Beijing’s weaponry remains much smaller than the US’s stockpile.

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Joshua Boscaini and Iris Zhao