PortandTerminal.com, June 8, 2020
Chinese-Australian relations have sunk to their lowest level in a generation following Australia’s call for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in April.
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA – By now it should be obvious to everyone. For some reason, China REALLY doesn’t want an investigation into the circumstances and its handling of the coronavirus outbreak in its country.
Australia, on the other hand, has been pressuring China for an independent investigation so that those questions can be answered and that’s put a big strain on the relations between the two countries.
On Friday a furious China hit out at the Australian government by announcing that it was warning its citizens not to travel to Australia and suggesting ominously that this may be “just the tip of the iceberg”.
Chinese tourists pump more than $US 8.4 billion into the Australian economy and account for 27 per cent of foreign spending by visitors so a travel warning is going to hurt a lot of Australian businesses. Losing cruise ship revenue and Chinese tourism dollars will put many under.
All of this takes place as China becomes more assertive in flexing its growing military, economic and diplomatic power in the Asia-Pacific region. Australian interference will not be tolerated it is signalling in the strongest possible terms.
On Friday the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism released a statement warning its citizens not to travel to Australia due to a “significant increase” in racism against Chinese and Asian people. They warned that “the tourism loss may be just a tip of iceberg (sic) in its loss of Chinese interest”.
The comments have come in a weekend editorial from English language Chinese newspaper The Global Times. The paper, which is widely seen as a Communist Party mouthpiece that does Beijing’s bidding, accused Australian politicians of “attacking” China.
In May, Beijing imposed punitive trade tariffs on two commodities that it could target without shooting itself in the foot.
China implemented tariffs of 80% on Australian barley and banned imports of beef from a number of Australian beef exporters who account for 35% of the country’s trade with China.
Wool, a major Australian export, was left untouched for now but many worry that it will be the next industry to be hit with Chinese retribution for question-asking.
Australia’s four largest exports to China – $63bn in iron ore, $16bn in natural gas, $14bn in coal and $12bn spent by international students studying in Australia – are not expected to be affected in the short term due to their size and the Chinese market’s reliance.
Just how angry is China right now? Australia’s Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is still waiting to speak to his Chinese counterpart about the beef and barley dispute, more than four weeks after requesting a meeting.
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