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Australia says China unresponsive to its pleas to ease tensions

This article is more than 12 months old

MELBOURNE: Australia said yesterday China remains unresponsive to its weeks-long pleas to ease tensions that escalated after Canberra called for an international enquiry into the origins of the novel coronavirus.

Australia has insisted the call for an independent investigation into the pandemic was not politically targeted at Beijing.

China accused Australia of playing "petty tricks" and the Chinese ambassador to Australia said Chinese consumers could boycott Australian products if Australia pursued the inquiry.

China has since suspended beef imports from four of Australia's largest meat processors and imposed hefty tariffs on barley, although both sides say that is unrelated to the latest spat.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, who has been requesting discussions with his Chinese counterpart for weeks, said Beijing has been ignoring Canberra's pleas.

"Unfortunately, our requests for a discussion have so far been met negatively," Mr Birmingham told Australian Broadcasting Corp yesterday. "That's disappointing."

China did not deny Mr Birmingham's specific comments on trade, but said diplomatic channels are open between the two countries.

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"We hope that Australia will meet China halfway, truly adhere to principles of mutual respect and equality, and do more things that is beneficial to China-Australia's mutual trust and cooperation," said spokesman Hua Chunying at a daily briefing.

China is Australia's biggest export market.

Relations between the two have been strained amid Australian accusations of Chinese meddling in its domestic affairs and concerns about what Australia sees as China's growing regional influence.

On Friday, China advised its people to avoid travelling to Australia, citing racial discrimination and violence against the Chinese in connection with the pandemic, which Canberra disputed.

A poll for The Australian newspaper yesterday showed 79 per cent of Australians backed a global coronavirus investigation. - REUTERS

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