China’s foreign ministry went on the attack on Tuesday evening, accusing Australia of playing the victim amid fears Australian coal has been banned by China in a politically-motivated move.
Addressing reporters in Beijing, spokesperson Wang Wenbin insisted China’s action taken on Australian imports in recent months are “in line with China’s laws and regulations and international practices” and denied any wrongdoing.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has ramped up his normally conservative approach with China in recent weeks and on Wednesday confirmed Australia would take a trade dispute over barley to the World Trade Organisation.
Mr Birmingham had called reports of China banning coal as blatant discrimination.
“We would urge them to rule that out swiftly,” he said.
However Mr Wang refuted Australia’s stance that they are being unfairly targeted by China.
“Recently we've seen many reports in which Australia dresses up as a victim, pointing an accusing finger at China, directly or by insinuation,” Mr Wang said.
“This move is meant to confound the public and we will never accept it.”
China accuses Australia of hypocrisy
He accused Canberra of hypocrisy, noting several Chinese investment projects including the Hong Kong CK Infrastructure Holdings' takeover offer for Australia's APA Group, and Mengniu Dairy's purchase of Lion Diary.
“In fact, it is the Australian side that has been politicising economic, investment and technological issues, and discriminating against Chinese companies in violation of market economy principles and international trade rules,” Mr Wang said.
“It has gone so far down the wrong path.”
On Wednesday, Mr Birmingham refuted claims Australia had unjustly blocked Chinese investment, stressing China is an “important part of our foreign investment landscape”.
“The vast majority of China's applications continue to be successful in our processes,” he said.
China hurting its global reputation, says PM
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Tasmania on Tuesday he believed China’s persistent trade sanctions imposed on Australia was detrimental to its global reputation.
China has launched trade strikes and sanctions against a range of Australian goods including beef, barley, wine, seafood and timber.
"If a perception emerges that there's a conflation between political issues and a trading relationship, then that can create uncertainty for many other trading partners," he said.
However hours later Mr Wang insisted it was Australia who was breaching the nations’ Free Trade Agreement.
“These actions disrupted bilateral cooperation momentum and damaged Australia's national image and reputation,” he told reporters.
His comments continued what has been a prolonged and ugly back-and-forth in recent months without constructive and direct dialogue between diplomats.
And a robust Mr Morrison warned he would not be making any concessions to engage in those conversations despite calls from Beijing for Australia to do so in order to resurrect the relationship.
Mr Wang once again reiterated Beijing’s stance, calling for Australia to “match its words with deeds”.
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