Tony Abbott has managed to mix up China with Tasmania… in front of the Chinese premier.
At a special dinner held at Parliament House on Monday in honour of the visiting Chinese president, Xi Jinping, Australia’s prime minister confused the small Australian island state with the world’s most populated nation.
While toasting Mr Xi, a tongue tied Mr Abbott said: “To mark President Xi’s visit, Australia and Tasmania, and.. We’ve said a lot about Tasmania, haven’t we.”
He then laughingly corrected himself: “Australia and China have reached agreements.”
“It’s hard to confuse Tasmania and China, but I have,” Mr Abbott admitted.
Mr Abbott then came under fire for apparently misunderstanding Mr Xi’s remarks about democracy in China.
“We have set two goals for China’s future development,” Mr Xi said in his formal speech to Australia’s parliament earlier in the day.
“The first is to double the 2010 GDP and per-capita income of urban and rural residents and build a society of initial prosperity in all respects by 2020.
“The second is to turn China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious by the middle of the century.”
In his toast at the later dinner, Mr Abbott praised the remarks as a new dawn in international relations.
“When I listened to the president today, some of the shadows over our region and over our world lifted and the sun did indeed shine brightly,” he said.
“I have never heard a Chinese leader declare that his country would be fully democratic by 2050.
“I have never heard a Chinese leader commit so explicitly to a rule-based international order founded on the principle that we should all treat others as we would be treated ourselves.
“I thank you, Mr President, for this historic, historic statement which I hope will echo right around the world.”
However, experts on China suggest that Mr Abbott was severely overestimating the significance of Mr Xi statement and that he misunderstands the Chinese ruling party’s concept of democracy.
“There is nothing new in what the Chinese president has said,” Jean-Pierre Cabestan, an expert on Chinese politics at Hong Kong Baptist University, told The Guardian.
“What’s important is actually the concept of a ‘modern socialist country’: it’s a country run by one party, the Communist party. I’m afraid Abbott has been a bit too optimistic. He seemed a bit overwhelmed having so many heavyweights around him.”
Nonetheless, earlier in the day Australia and China announced a landmark new free trade deal between the two countries.
Xi Jinping has been in Australia to take part in the Brisbane G20 summit.
IMAGE: President Xi Jinping toasts during an officIal dinner given by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Margie Abbott at Parliament House on November 17, 2014 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images)