US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has defended Australia while branding China as a brutal regime ideologically and politically hostile to free nations.
Mr Pompeo said the world was "waking up" to China following its response to the COVID-19 outbreak and treatment of Australia, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Australia has led a successful push for a global inquiry into the pandemic and in recent days China slapped an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley imports and is blocking red meat from four Australian abattoirs.
"The Chinese Communist Party chose to threaten Australia with economic retribution for the simple act of asking for an independent inquiry into the origins of the virus," Mr Pompeo said on Wednesday (local time) in Washington DC.
"It's not right.
"We stand with Australia and the more than 120 nations now who have taken up the American call for an inquiry into the origins of the virus, so we can understand what went wrong and save lives now, and in the future."
Tensions between Australia and China have continued to rise over the past few days as leaders in both countries continue to spar.
Chinese citizens have reportedly hit out at Australia, accusing it of being “a dog” for the United States.
The Global Times – a publication well known for expressing the Chinese Government’s agenda – published comments from social media network Weibo of Chinese citizens unloading on Australia.
“It seems that Australia, this giant kangaroo that serves as a dog of the US, will hit a deadlock with China on trade disputes in sectors like coal and beef. Hopefully, the US will compensate it,” one Weibo post read, as reported by The Global Times.
Earlier this week, Australia welcomed the World Health Organisation’s decision to pave the way for a ‘necessary’ investigation.
The probe was backed by more than 130 World Health Organisation member states including China.
Australia’s iron ore could be the next trade victim
Australian iron ore could be the next victim of trade tensions with China after Beijing changed its inspection rules.
Chinese customs officials say the changes taking effect next month are designed to "streamline procedures" at ports.
But the Global Times has warned Australian iron ore imports could be hurt by political tensions between the two countries.
"This is another implicit warning to Australia," Yu Lei, a chief research fellow at Liaocheng University, told the newspaper.
"It is associated with how Australia has acted, and a general decline in demand for steel on the global level."
Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon has urged the government to soothe relations with China, lashing the coalition for demonising Australia's biggest trading partner.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Australia was right to stand up to China.
"The values of the communist regime are not compatible with ours so you will have tensions from time to time," he told 2GB radio.
"We'll manage those, but we aren't going to compromise on our values and our beliefs."
US blasts China
The once seemingly cordial relationship between US President Donald Trump and China flipped in recent weeks as America's coronavirus death toll rose towards 100,000, unemployment jumped to historic levels and its economy was battered.
Mr Trump and Mr Pompeo have used daily public forums to blast China for its COVID-19 response.
Mr Pompeo said the US, for several decades, thought China would "become more like us through trade, scientific exchanges, diplomatic outreach" and letting them in the World Trade Organisation as a developing nation.
"That didn't happen," he said.
"We greatly underestimated the degree to which Beijing is ideologically and politically hostile to free nations.
"The whole world is waking up to that fact."
The US claims China chose to destroy live COVID-19 samples instead of sharing them or asking the US for help to secure them.
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