Similar sensational words were used in a barrage of news stories in the Australian media from The Australian to The Australian Financial Review. By contrast, the official Chinese translation was effective and truer to the intended meaning: “Anyone attempting to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.” To Western journalists, clearly the literal image of bloody and cracked skulls proved too tempting.

The literal translation set off a wave of anxiety in the Australian media about the “China threat”, but as former diplomat Colin Heseltine argued, Xi’s speech did not merit the “alarmist interpretations of the more hawkish commentators”.

Is what Raby called “misreading” a consequence of linguistic incompetence, a lack of China literacy, or poor professional judgment on the part of the journalists? Or is it a consequence of a mindset that is ideologically informed, and perhaps even politically motivated?

Over the past few years, the China threat narrative has kept many commentators in demand and is one of the many hot topics that have kept the mainstream media afloat and their journalists employed, so from the media’s point of view there’s little reason to change course. A newly elected government intending to improve the Australia-China relationship is not necessarily good news in journalistic terms. Where is the selling point if the story is bereft of conflict?

Raby, commenting on the Australian media’s penchant for misreading, shared valuable professional advice: “In commenting on diplomacy and foreign policy it is helpful to know the difference between a demarche and an aide memoire. The French makes it a little difficult for sure, but the former is a demand by one government on another to take or desist from certain actions; the latter is a note to assist one side or the other to recall matters discussed.”

But knowing the difference is not going to help newspapers sell copies or encourage people to click on links. Like a hammer that prefers to see everything as a nail, hawkish commentators and politicians, aided by unthinking journalists, will probably continue to ignore such advice, and instead ensure that the wheel of adversarial journalism keeps turning as far as China is concerned.