It did not take long for China to strike back against Australia after Australia demanded the constitution of an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
On a Sunday morning television show in late April, support for an investigation on the issue – aimed against China, was initially raised by Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
In a matter of few days, China’s ambassador to Australia Chen Jingye retaliated by saying that the allegations could be responded to by the Chinese people themselves. “Maybe the ordinary (Chinese) people will say ‘Why should we drink Australian wine? Eat Australian beef?'” he told the Australian Financial Review.
And now the campaign to hit out at Australia appears ot be on in full swing.
Citing health issues, importing of beef from four large Australian abattoirs was stopped by China on May 12. And as part of an anti-dumping probe, import tariffs of more than 80% on Australian barley was slapped by China five days later.
The total volume of trade between China and Australia in 2018 was more than $214 billion which made China the largest trade partner of Australia by far. And given the real prospect of a recession because of the coronavirus pandemic being faced by China, the trade relations with China appears to be very critical.
There are deep cracks now in the relationship between the two countries according to experts, with ministerial ties fraying and Chinese state media increasingly ranting an anti-Australia rhetoric.
“It’s very hard to see how in the absence of any discussion we can quickly rebuild trust in the relationship,” said Richard McGregor, senior fellow at the Lowy Institute.
For global observers and experts, Australia represents a test case of whether a liberal democracy that has close trade relations with an authoritarian regime such as the one in Beijing be able to balance such a relationship and an independent foreign policy which may at times also be against the liking of the Chinese Communist Party.
Australia has been caught in a dilemma for years, of establishing strong ties with China because of its vast economic wealth which benefits Australians and that of given equal or more importance to the long-standing security ties that it had with the United States.1
Raw materials such as iron ore, coal, gold and wool are the main exports of Australia to China which has helped to fuel the rapid economic growth of China. Australia in turn imports consumer goods and technical components in large quantities.
In 2017, when the Australian government introduced sweeping new security legislation aimed at cracking down on foreign interference in domestic politics, the relations between the two countries had started to sour.
The Chinese authorities had feared that the new regulations in Australia were primarily targeted towards Beijing and put Australia into a diplomatic deep freeze.
And the first call for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic on April 19 by Payne, Australia’s foreign minister, was made amidst this chilly environment. That call was soon followed up Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was the first world leaders apart from those in the United States, to call for a formal investigation over the origin of the coronavirus.
“It would seem entirely reasonable and sensible that the world would want to have an independent assessment of how this all occurred,” Morrison said at a press conference on April 29.
(Adapted from CNN.com)