Australia says China unresponsive to its pleas to ease tensions

MELBOURNE • Australia yesterday said China remains unresponsive to its weeks-long pleas to ease tensions between the two trading partners, which escalated after Canberra called for a global inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.

Australia has insisted that its call for an independent investigation into the pandemic, which it says most likely originated in a wildlife market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, was not politically targeted at Beijing.

China accused Australia of playing "petty tricks" and the Chinese ambassador to Australia said Chinese consumers could boycott Australian products if Canberra pursued the inquiry. China has since suspended beef imports from four of Australia's largest meat processors and imposed hefty tariffs on barley, although both sides say that is unrelated to the latest spat.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said China has been ignoring Canberra's pleas for weeks. "Unfortunately, our requests for a discussion have so far been met negatively," Mr Birmingham told Australian Broadcasting Corp Radio. "That's disappointing."

China did not deny Mr Birmingham's specific comments on trade, but said diplomatic channels are open between the two countries.

"We hope Australia will meet China halfway, truly adhere to principles of mutual respect and equality, and do more things that are beneficial to China-Australia's mutual trust and cooperation," said Chinese spokesman Hua Chunying.

China is Australia's biggest export market. Relations have been strained amid Australian accusations of Chinese meddling in domestic affairs and concern about what Australia sees as China's growing regional influence.

Last Friday, China advised its people to avoid travelling to Australia, citing racial discrimination and violence against the Chinese in connection with the pandemic, claims which Canberra has disputed.

A poll in The Australian newspaper yesterday showed 79 per cent of Australians backed a global coronavirus investigation.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2020, with the headline Australia says China unresponsive to its pleas to ease tensions. Subscribe