China‘s new ambassador to Australia is hoping for a ‘reset’ in the countries’ relations after a rough ride in recent years, but Peter Dutton says Australia will not be ‘weak’.
It has been a rocky road for Australian-Chinese relations since April 2020, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for World Health Organization investigators in Wuhan to have the same powers as UN-backed weapons inspectors.
The WHO was investigating the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic that has dominated world headlines for more than two years.
China’s new ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian (pictured) says the China-Australia relationship is at a ‘critical juncture’
China’s response to Mr Morrison’s call led to bans or huge tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Australian exports to China such as coal, cotton, wine and beef.
In November 2020 it emerged that the Chinese embassy in Canberra had drawn up what became known as the ‘list of grievances’ – 14 black marks that were China’s reasons for the bad blood with Australia.
The list included: ‘The incessant wanton interference in China’s … affairs’; ‘outrageous condemnation of the governing party of China’; and ‘an unfriendly or antagonistic report on China by media’.
Ambassador Xiao Qian arrived on Australia Day and said the China-Australia relationship was at a ‘critical juncture’, facing difficulties and challenges as well as opportunity and potential.
‘As long as both sides adhere to the principles of mutual respect, equality, inclusiveness and mutual learning and firmly grasp the right direction of the development, the China-Australia relations will keep moving forward,’ he said.
But in response, defence minister Peter Dutton has vowed to continue to call out Chinese aggression and human rights violations.
Mr Dutton welcomed the new ambassador, but stood by the federal government’s criticisms of China, saying its belligerent approach in the Indo-Pacific region was unacceptable.
AUSTRALIA VERSUS CHINA TRADE WAR
In October 2020, China imposed informal bans on Australian cotton and coal.
A month later, Australian sugar, barley, lobsters, wine, copper and timber were added to the list.
Six meat processors were banned from exporting beef to China.
In December 2020, Australia lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over China’s 80.5 per cent tariffs on its barley exports.
In the filing, Australia claimed China deviated from WTO rules 26 times.
In March 2021, China imposed duties of between 116.2 per cent and 218.4 per cent on Australian wine, making it too expensive for Chinese consumers.
This effectively killed the market.
‘We want a good, strong friendly relationship with China but at the moment China is in conflict,’ he told radio station 2GB on Thursday.
‘Not just with us where they’re cutting off markets and the cyber attacks, but with the Philippines, they’re at loggerheads with the Indians, the Vietnamese, with many, many other countries.’
Mr Dutton said failing to shed light on human rights abuses such as Beijing’s treatment of ethnic Uighurs and tennis star Peng Shuai would make Australia appear weak.
‘If we remain silent, we remain weak. If we block our ears and pretend it’s going to go away, the problem will only just compound,’ he said.
‘I hope the new appointment is sincere in what he says but we need to talk about human rights issues.’
The previous Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye, who left Australia last October, said the difficulties in Australia-China relations was ‘saddening’ and he hoped they could be improved.
During Mr Morrison’s speech to the Davos World Economic Forum on January 21, he took aim at China over what he called ‘economic coercion,’ foreign interference and cyberattacks.
The Prime Minister’s account on Chinese social media site WeChat was blocked this week, a move the Australian government thinks the Beijing government was behind.
On Tuesday, Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Australia’s relationship with China will remain difficult even if his party wins this year’s federal election.
But he praised China for ‘lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty’ in a tribute to the Communist power during a National Press Club speech.
Mr Albanese suggested Australia’s policy toward a more belligerent China would not divide the parties during the campaign.
‘Whoever’s in government, it will be a difficult relationship,’ he said. ‘It will be difficult because the posture of China has changed.
‘It is China that has changed, not Australia that has changed.
‘I don’t blame the government and never have for the current circumstances,’ Mr Albanese added.
Defence minister Peter Dutton (pictured) says Australia will not be silent on China
Mr Albanese said a Labor government would deal with China ‘in a mature way. Not by being provocative for the sake of it to make a domestic political point.
Despite the rollercoaster ride of relations with China in the past two years, it remains Australia’s biggest trading partner, with a strong reliance on Australian iron ore.
In the September quarter, Australia had a record current account surplus of $23.9billion, despite a collapse in iron ore prices as China cut back on steel production.
During that month, Australia exported $15.4billion worth of iron ore, but this was 15.9 per cent lower than the $18.3billion in August, Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured) took aim at China over what he called ‘economic coercion’