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Chinese state media has ramped up its attack on Australia amid calls for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, with one leading editor branding Australia “chewing gum stuck on the soles of China’s shoes”.
China has persistently rebuked Australia’s support for a full investigation into how COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan at the end of 2019, suggesting Australia has a political motive behind its stance, allegations it strongly denies.
Scott Morrison’s support for an investigation has raised tensions with China, prompting the communist nation to threaten a boycott on Australian produce.
Vocal editor-in-chief of state publication The Global Times, Hu XiJin, lambasted Australia’s decision to pursue an investigation alongside the US, taking to his Weibo account – a Chinese platform similar to Twitter – to suggest such a move will only deteriorate Chinese-Australian relations.
“I feel it is a bit like chewing gum stuck to the soles of China’s shoes. Sometimes you have to find a stone to rub it down,” he said.
“I would like to remind everyone in good faith that the relationship between the United States and China will decline to a great extent and the relationship between Australia and China will drop with the same probability.”
Early on Wednesday morning following Australian media coverage of the growing tensions between Australia and China, Hu took aim at Australia once again on his Twitter account, in response to a story asking for an explanation on “economic coercion”.
“Let me give a "coercion" to Australia,” he said.
“As its attitude toward China becomes worse and worse, Chinese companies will definitely reduce economic cooperation with Australia, and the number of Chinese students & visitors going to Australia will also decrease.
“Time will prove it all.”
Let me give a "coercion" to Australia. As its attitude toward China becomes worse and worse, Chinese companies will definitely reduce economic cooperation with Australia, and the number of Chinese students & visitors going to Australia will also decrease. Time will prove it all. pic.twitter.com/JyixLicz9g
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) April 28, 2020
Damning comments follow Chinese ambassador’s threats
His remarks follow the comments of Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye over the weekend who told the Australian Financial Review that Australia’s actions could have an adverse effect on its exports and the tourism industry.
"Maybe the ordinary people will say 'Why should we drink Australian wine? Eat Australian beef?'" he said.
Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Frances Adamson called Cheng regarding his comments to stress Australia has no political motive in supporting a future investigation and Australia wasn’t targeting China.
A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy later revealed details of that conversation and doubled down on its attack on Australia.
"Ambassador Cheng elaborated clearly China's relevant position, stressing that no matter what excuses the Australian side has made, the fact cannot be buried that the proposal is a political manoeuvre," the spokesperson said.
"Just as a western saying goes: Cry up wine and sell vinegar."
The spokesperson told Australia it must “stop political games” and “put aside ideological bias” while making a concerted effort to promote relations between the two countries.
Australia fails to crumble under Chinese attack
Yet Australia has stood firm in its response, with trade minister Simon Birmingham, voicing his disapproval of Cheng’s comments.
"The government has made our displeasure with those remarks known," he said on Tuesday.
"We won't be changing our public policy position on such a serious public health matter in the face of any threats of coercion from any other nation.”
Mr Birmingham said answers were needed in the wake of hundreds of thousands of people dying, millions losing jobs, and billions facing massive disruption to their lives.
"The least the world can expect is a transparent inquiry into the causes of COVID-19 so that we can understand how best to prevent a repeat episode any time in the future," he said.
On Wednesday morning, Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton echoed Mr Birmingham’s sentiments, saying an investigation was needed.
He said he was concerned about Cheng’s threats to boycott trade and called for their strong trade partnership to continue, albeit requiring honesty from both parties.
“We want to make sure that we continue to be a good trading partner with China but to be best of friends, even to be good friends you have got to be honest with each other and we are honest in the relationship,” he told Channel Nine’s Today show.
“We want transparency and we want questions to be answered about the origin of this virus so that it doesn’t happen again.” Peter Dutton on the Chinese Ambassador threatening to boycott Australian goods. #9Today pic.twitter.com/sAw9Oc6cXQ
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) April 28, 2020
People’s Daily accuse Morrison of ‘weak’ leadership
On Tuesday, the state run People’s Daily joined in the attack on Australia, suggesting Scott Morrison’s calls for an investigation were to distract from his own “weak” response to the pandemic and that the Australian public had lost faith in the prime minister over his “lack of leadership”.
“The charismatic Morrison government urgently needs to find an "outlet" to divert the anger of the domestic people,” it said, claiming the recent bushfires had “burnt” people’s support of Mr Morrison.
The claims came despite Scott Morrison seeing a significant upturn in his ratings following his initial coronavirus response which has successfully suppressed the virus in Australia.
Mr Morrison has the highest satisfaction rating of any national leader since Kevin Rudd at the height of the global financial crisis in 2009, The Australian’s Newspoll revealed.
The People’s Daily went on to say Australia has become “obsessed” with its association with the US and in recent years had waded in on Chinese matters such as the South China Sea for “no reason”.
The publication put such behaviour down to “insecurity” over China’s growth.
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