Australia is an outpost of "rascals and outlaws" that will soon adjust to the shifting realities of power, says a Chinese state-owned newspaper.
"Australia's history is not short of records of human rights infringement on the Aboriginal population," said the Global Times, China's most popular tabloid, in an editorial published in the newspaper's English and Chinese editions today.
"The country used to be a place roamed by rascals and outlaws from Europe," it said. "Perhaps it has to boast its values to cover up its actual lack of confidence in front of Western countries."
The newspaper, owned by The People's Daily, the Communist Party's self-described "mouthpiece", was responding to comments made by Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop published by Fairfax Media on Thursday.
The Chinese version of the Global Times editorial goes further than the English version, using a Beijing colloquialism to describe Ms Bishop as a "complete fool" and suggesting her government won't last long.
In the interview, Ms Bishop bluntly pledged to stand up for Australian values and to "manage for the worst" when dealing with China, while criticising the alleged temerity and incoherence of Labor predecessors. "China doesn't respect weakness," she said.
Ms Bishop was making the point that the Abbott Government's more strident advocacy on China, particularly on security matters, had not led to the punitive economic response that Australian critics had predicted.
Fairfax Media understands that the interview prompted high-level diplomatic inquiries and some initial confusion about whether Ms Bishop actually made the comments as reported.
The Global Times editorial paired Ms Bishop's comments with Prime Minister Tony Abbott's comments to his guest, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in which he said he "admired the skill and the sense of honour" of the Japanese submariners who attacked Sydney Harbor in 1942.
"If Abbott's words were meant to flatter his visiting Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, Bishop's provocation appeared to have come out of nowhere," it says.
"Many Chinese people who read about this could not believe these words came from the Australian foreign minister. China is Australia's biggest trade partner and has not offended Australia in any way. Bishop's verbal provocation made her look more like one of the often pointless 'angry youths' found in the Chinese cyber sphere than a diplomat."
The Global Times editorial is the closest that China has come to admonishing Australia since last week's high-profile visit by the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, in which he advanced the capacity to work together with the Australian military.
Still, the editorial hinted that China will not bother pressing its views further because Australia would be forced to adjust its rhetoric to the realities of international bargaining power.
"Bishop calls for standing up to China, but what resources does she have to do so with? The next day, Australian leaders will smile at China again, just as they do now to Japan."
Within the Abbott Government, some said Ms Bishop was merely giving voice to long-established principles that underpin China policy.
Others, however, questioned whether it would be able to consistently match principles with actions, as the Rudd government struggled to do.
The Global Times is famous for a distinct brand of fiery nationalism.
Its editor, Hu Xijin, claims to represents the will of the Chinese people but his commentaries are regularly more controversial abroad than they are at home.
- Sydney Morning Herald