Chinese state media has dismissed “exaggerated” media reporting over its warship personnel bulk buying Australian baby formula before leaving Sydney, defending the purchase as legitimate and normal.
According to a report on Sunday night in the Global Times, a state-run nationalistic tabloid, more than 50 tins of infant milk powder were bought on-board by “some sailors in need”, citing an anonymous source, and it accused Australian media of “hyping” and “over-analysis” designed to mislead public, “similar to the hype over the China threat theory”, suggested by another source.
The response came after an exclusive picture taken by The Weekend Australian showed People’s Liberation Army personnel loading dozens of boxes full of A2 platinum and Aptamil formula onto three Chinese warships on the eve of their departure for China.
The incident has caught growing domestic and international media attention following the ships approved-but-controversial arrival on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The Global Times article, published in English and in a longer Chinese version via its official social media WeChat account, noted it was not the first time that Australian media “overreacted” to Chinese sailors buying baby food, referring to another media report in 2016.
The Chinese version ridiculed the story in its headline “Why hype it? When Chinese navy visit Australia, what else is worth buying besides this little bit of milk powder?”
It insisted that all purchases made by Chinese warship personnel “strictly abided” by relevant laws, including “local purchase limits”, and the purchase was “for non-commercial purposes” and required inspection.
A former Chinese navy staffer told the paper that given the short duration of the visit, personnel were only able to buy products with an excellent reputation, and “it’s more for baby formula in Australia”; another said that for crews who had been away from families for a long time, it was “natural” to buy local specialties as gifts.
In the picture taken by The Weekend Australian, Chinese army officers were seen with boxes of “instant white” facial masks; Australian cosmetics are one of the most popular products for Chinese consumers.
The reports have stirred discussion among Chinese Australians, with many complaining about Australian media for making a fuss about the visiting ships, while others recalled a lethal baby formula scandal in China in 2008, when six babies died from kidney damage and an estimated 54,000 babies were hospitalised.
The national tragedy was widely seen as sparking a trend of middle-class Chinese parents turning to imported infant milk products due to its safer, cleaner and better quality, particularly products from Australia and New Zealand.