'A mistake': China's warning to Australia as relations fail to improve

Tom Flanagan
·News Reporter
·2-min read

China has warned Australia it is continuing to put strain on badly-damaged ties which have shown little sign of improvement following a turbulent 2020.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, who infamously sparked outrage from Prime Minister Scott Morrison for sharing a provocative image of an Australian soldier slitting the throat of an Afghan child, hit out at Canberra on Tuesday evening after a Chinese company’s $300 million takeover of Australian construction firm Probuild was withdrawn over concerns it would be blocked by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

He warned Australia was making “a mistake” by continuing to misinterpret Chinese actions.

“This is the latest example of how the Australian government has been politicising trade and investment issues, violating market principles and the spirit of the China-Australia free trade agreement, and imposing discriminatory measures on Chinese companies,” he said.

FM spokesperson Zhao Lijian (right) hit out at Canberra after a Chinese company withdrew its bid for an Australian company over fears Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (left) would block it. Source: Getty/ FMPRC
FM spokesperson Zhao Lijian (right) hit out at Canberra after a Chinese company withdrew its bid for an Australian company over fears Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (left) would block it. Source: Getty/ FMPRC

“Such actions have disrupted the sound momentum in practical cooperation between China and Australia and hurt the image and reputation of Australia itself. “

Blocking Chinese investment in Australia has been one of Beijing’s grievances with Canberra, and was included in a 14-point dossier handed to Nine Newspapers by an unnamed Chinese diplomat in November.

In June, the federal government announced it would tighten rules on foreign investment, while in December new legislation meant it could veto foreign deals at state level it believed were a risk to national security.

Yet Mr Zhao said such action was damaging to Sino-Australian relations.

“It is a mistake to politicise normal commercial cooperation and seek political interference in the name of national security,” he said.

An industry source told ABC News the government feared the takeover by state-owned company China State Construction Engineering Corporation could lead to critical infrastructure information in Australia making its way into the hands of Beijing.

Beijing has repeatedly called on Australia to make significant concessions to help rebuild relations which have plummeted following a series of disagreements including Mr Morrison’s early calls for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

Last month China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said he hoped a resolution could be found “as early as possible” however reiterated China’s stance that it was Australia who needed to “make some effort”.

China has hit Australia with a raft of trade sanctions which are widely perceived as punishment for Canberra’s robust approach to what China calls internal affairs.

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