Beijing’s trade behaviour is ‘vindictive’, says Australia’s ambassador to China Graham Fletcher

Beijing's trade behaviour is 'vindictive', says Australia's ambassador to China Graham Fletcher

BEIJING: Australia’s ambassador to China Graham Fletcher on Wednesday labelled China’s campaign of economic punishment against Australia “vindictive” as the diplomatic relationship between the two countries remains tensed.

“It’s been exposed as quite unreliable as a trading partner and even vindictive,” said Fletcher.
Australia’s ambassador to China Graham Fletcher delivered a caustic assessment of China’s behaviour while speaking to Australian businesses via a video link from Beijing, reported ABC News.

“I’m not sure China realises the damage that is occurring both in Australia and internationally,” Fletcher told the Australian China Business Council.

ABC News reported that officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed that Australian trade with China had plummeted across almost all industries, with overall figures propped up largely by Beijing’s strong demand for iron ore.

In the last nine months, China’s government has targeted several Australian industries — including barley, coal, timber and lobsters — as it tries to force Canberra to give ground on a wide range of disputes.

No new sanctions have been unveiled this year, although the wine industry believes tariffs on Australian wine first introduced last year will be locked in — and possibly increased — within days, reported ABC News.

The ambassador also warned Australian businesses which rely too heavily on the Chinese market could be left exposed to campaigns of economic coercion directed by the government. “You’ve just got to imagine that, unexpectedly, you may lose your China market for no good reason other than that Beijing has decided to send a message to Canberra,” he said.

He also said the escalating pattern of trade punishment had generated “sympathy” for Australia and hardened attitudes towards China around the globe, reported ABC News.

“We hear a lot of sympathy and support quietly from a lot of countries you might not necessarily expect around the world who can see what’s going on, and say, ‘Look, we don’t want to live in a world either where China is behaving like this and is able to set the agenda,'” he said.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Wilson from the Perth US-Asia Centres said the ambassador’s comments suggested that Australia was “looking towards multi-lateral, rather than bi-lateral, solutions to trade disputes with China.”

“Australia-China trade issues are no longer really just about Australia,” he told the ABC. China has applied various sanctions to other countries — including the EU and Britain — it has become clear that ‘sanctions diplomacy’ is now part of its global diplomatic toolkit.

Moreover, US statements at the Anchorage Summit made clear that the Biden administration intends to pursue and resist this new form of Chinese behaviour.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not directly address Fletcher’s comments when asked by reporters but emphasised the “great support” Australia had received from other democracies over its dispute with China, reported ABC News.

“We are obviously facing some difficult issues in that relationship. And we really appreciate the great support we have had from liberal democracies around the world, none less so than the United States,” he said.

Earlier, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken lashed Beijing, saying its “blatant economic coercion of Australia” was an example of the increasingly urgent threat posed by resurgent authoritarian regimes, reported ABC News.

US leaders are still vowing to intensify competition with China in the wake of the acrimonious Anchorage meeting.

Overnight, US President Joe Biden said the contest between the two powers was symbolic of a larger issue — “autocracy or democracy, because that is what is at stake.”
“This is a battle between the utility of democracy in the 21st century and autocracies,” he said. (ANI)