China slams Australia’s ‘petty tricks’ as virus probe dispute hots up
SYDNEY : China accused Australia of "petty tricks" yesterday in an intensifying dispute over Canberra's push for an international inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic that could affect diplomatic and economic ties between the countries.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his proposed inquiry into how the virus developed and spread would not be targeted at China but was needed given Covid-19 had killed more than 200,000 people and shut down much of the global economy.
"Now, it would seem entirely reasonable and sensible that the world would want to have an independent assessment of how this all occurred, so we can learn the lessons and prevent it from happening again," he said.
Australian government ministers have repeatedly said China, the country's largest trade partner, was threatening "economic coercion" after Ambassador Cheng Jingye said this week that Chinese consumers could boycott Australian products and universities because of the calls for the inquiry.
The head of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) called Mr Cheng to express concern. The Chinese Embassy then released a statement detailing what it said was discussed on the call, prompting another rebuke from DFAT.
Yesterday, the embassy returned fire, saying on its website that details of the call had first been "obviously leaked by some Australian officials" and it needed to set the record straight.
"The Embassy of China doesn't play petty tricks, this is not our tradition. But if others do, we have to reciprocate," a spokesman said in the statement.
Chinese state media has fiercely rounded on Mr Morrison, with Australian studies scholar Chen Hong writing in the Global Times tabloid yesterday that Australia was "spearheading" a "malicious campaign to frame and incriminate China".
Mr Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the paper, which is affiliated to the Beijing-controlled People's Daily newspaper, said on Chinese social media that Australia was always making trouble. He wrote: "It is a bit like chewing gum stuck on the sole of China's shoes. Sometimes you have to find a stone to rub it off." - REUTERS