The Chinese flag flies outside the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Sai Ying Pun district of Hong Kong, China.(Bloomberg)
The Chinese flag flies outside the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Sai Ying Pun district of Hong Kong, China.(Bloomberg)

China, Australia in diplomatic spat over call for international Covid probe

As China threatens boycott of Australian products and universities, after facing pressure of international enquiry into coronavirus origins, Australia has shot back by cautioning China against any threat of “economic coercion”.
By Sutirtho Patranobis | Hindustan Times, Beijing
PUBLISHED ON APR 27, 2020 05:43 PM IST

Chinese citizens could avoid Australian products and universities if Prime Minister Scott Morrison doesn’t stop calling for an international enquiry into the coronavirus origins, a top Chinese official has said in what is fast developing into a testy diplomatic exchange between the two countries.

Australia has shot back against the threat, cautioning China against any threat of “economic coercion”.

In the past week, Morrison had spoken to the leaders of the US, France and Germany to gather support for an international investigation into the Wuhan origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beijing didn’t take lightly to the move.

Chinese ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye said in an interview to The Australian Financial Review on Sunday that the call for the probe was “dangerous”.

“If the mood is going from bad to worse, people would think ‘why should we go to such a country that is not so friendly to China?’ The tourists may have second thoughts,” Cheng said, adding: “It is up to the people to decide. Maybe the ordinary people will say ‘Why should we drink Australian wine? Eat Australian beef?’”

“The parents of the students would also think... whether this is the best place to send their kids,” he added.

China is not only Australia’s largest export market for wine and beef, it is also the largest markets for energy exports, education and tourism – Bloomberg reports that Australia’s is the most China-reliant economy in the developed world.

On Monday, Australian foreign minister, Marise Payne cautioned China against attempts at “economic coercion”.

Payne said in a statement on Monday that Australia had made a “principled call” for an independent review of the Covid-19 outbreak which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late last year.

“We reject any suggestion that economic coercion is an appropriate response to a call for such an assessment, when what we need is global cooperation,” Payne said in the statement.

China had earlier called the move to ask for an independent inquest politically motivated.

“Currently, with the pandemic still spreading across the world, the most pressing task is to put people’s life and health first and work together to defeat the virus,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang had said.

“At such a critical juncture, it is highly irresponsible to resort to politically motivated suspicion and accusation. We advise the Australian side to put aside ideological bias and political games, focus on the welfare of the Australian people and global public health security, follow the international community’s collective will for cooperation, and contribute to the global cooperation in fighting the virus, instead of doing things to the contrary,” Geng had said.

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