China’s ambassador to Australia has pinned the blame on Canberra for the rapidly deteriorating relations between the two countries, accusing Australia of escalating the conflict.
In a lengthy statement to the Australia China Business Council on Thursday, ambassador Cheng Jingye said Canberra is “changing its perceptions about China” by now considering Beijing a threat rather than a partner. The diplomat further stressed that claims of Chinese diplomatic and economic coercion are irrelevant and serve as “a cover-up” to shift responsibility.
“If there is any coercion, it must have been done by the Australian side,” Cheng said, adding that Beijing’s actions were meant to “uphold its legitimate rights and interests, prevent bilateral ties from further plunging and move them back onto the right track.”
The ambassador cited economic data as an example of Australia’s wrongdoings. According to Cheng, China’s investment in Australia dropped more than 90% in four years, while Australian exports to China remained high, standing at AU$148 billion (US$115 billion) in 2020. He also compared the number of trade-related probes launched by each side, noting that Canberra opened 106 anti-dumping investigations into Chinese imports, while Beijing launched just four into Australian goods.
Other coercive practices cited by Cheng include “discriminatory” restrictions on Chinese investments, as well as the “suppressing” of Chinese high-tech firms, apparently referring to the exclusion of tech giants Huawei and ZTE from Australia’s 5G networks. He also addressed Australia’s recent decision to tear up the Belt and Road initiative between China and the state of Victoria, saying that it was among a long list of “negative moves” that damaged the bilateral relations.
Tensions between the two countries have been increasing for several years, especially after Canberra banned Chinese vendors from its 5G rollout. The situation worsened last year when Australia called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.
The conflict has had an impact on trade, with many Australian companies facing losses due to decreased shipments and hiked tariffs on exports including wine, barley, meat and coal.
Another downward spiral in China-Australia relations came last week when Canberra announced its decision to abandon the Belt and Road agreement, and the Australian government signaled that it might reverse long-term leases held by Chinese companies at the port in Darwin.
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