World

Spat between Australia, China over coronavirus inquiry worsens

SYDNEY: Australia and China traded barbs yesterday in an increasingly acrimonious diplomatic spat over Australia's support for a global inquiry into the origins of the pandemic.

Australia's relative success in constraining the spread of the virus has been overshadowed by the rift with its largest trading partner, which was exacerbated by a World Health Assembly resolution in favour of the inquiry.

In an unusually blunt statement on the same day that China imposed hefty tariffs on Australian barley exports, China's embassy in Canberra said it was "nothing but a joke" for Australia to claim the resolution was vindication of its push for a global review.

"The draft resolution on Covid-19 to be adopted by the World Health Assembly is totally different from Australia's proposal of an independent international review," a Chinese embassy spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.

Asked about the comments, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News that "Australia is not going to engage in cheap politicking over an issue as important as Covid-19".

"I would have thought the appropriate response from China's ambassador in Australia would have been to welcome these outcomes and welcome the opportunity for all of us to work together on this important issue."

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday told the assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organisation, that China would support a comprehensive review after the pandemic is brought under control.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's spearheading of the call for an inquiry, alongside the European Union, has been a lightning rod for a more assertive approach by Chinese embassies to criticism of its handling of the outbreak. That policy has been dubbed "Wolf Warrior" diplomacy in both Western and Chinese media.

The Chinese ambassador had earlier warned of a consumer boycott of Australian goods, and the subsequent barley tariffs and the suspension of the export licences of several of Australia's largest beef processors were viewed by many as retaliatory. - REUTERS

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