Foreign Desk Report
SYDNEY: China accused Australia of “petty tricks” on Wednesday in an intensifying dispute over Canberra’s push for an international inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak that could affect diplomatic and economic ties between the countries.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his proposed inquiry into how the coronavirus developed and spread would not be targeted at China but was needed given COVID-19 had killed more than 200,000 people and shut down much of the global economy.
“Now, it would seem entirely reasonable and sensible that the world would want to have an independent assessment of how this all occurred, so we can learn the lessons and prevent it from happening again,” he said.
Australian government ministers have repeatedly said China, the country’s largest trade partner, was threatening “economic coercion” after its ambassador, Cheng Jingye, said this week that Chinese consumers could boycott Australian products and universities because of the calls for the inquiry. The head of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) called Cheng to express concern. The Chinese embassy then released a statement detailing what it said was discussed on the call, prompting another rebuke from DFAT.
On Wednesday, the Chinese embassy returned fire, saying on its website that details of the call had first been “obviously leaked by some Australian officials” and it needed to set the record straight.