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China threatens Australia’s economy if it investigates coronavirus outbreak

The Hon Marise Payne, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Australia, delivers a statement at the ninth Ministerial Meeting of the Friends of the CTBT on 27 September 2018. (Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization/Released))
April 28, 2020

China is warning Australia of an economic hit if it chooses to investigate China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Australia has been moving to investigate how China responded to the outbreak of the coronavirus. On Monday, China responded when Chinese ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, said in an interview with The Australian Financial Review that Australia’s inquiry was “dangerous” and further insisted that Chinese citizens would boycott the Australian economy as a result.

“The Chinese public is frustrated, dismayed and disappointed with what Australia is doing now,” Cheng said. “I think in the long term… if the mood is going from bad to worse, people would think ‘Why should we go to such a country that is not so friendly to China? The tourists may have second thoughts. The parents of the students would also think whether this place which they found is not so friendly, even hostile, whether this is the best place to send their kids here.”

Cheng noted Chinese consumers might also reject Australian imports, which could pose a major hit to Australia as China is its largest export market, according to the Australian government.

“Maybe the ordinary people will say ‘Why should we drink Australian wine? Eat Australian beef?” Cheng said.

China is the largest export market for Australia’s wine and beef. Australian beef and wine markets suffered a hit from China in 2018 when China imposed import delays and suspensions.

On Monday, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne pushed back on Cheng’s warnings.

“Australia has made a principled call for an independent review of the COVID-19 outbreak, an unprecedented global crisis with severe health, economic and social impacts,” Payne said, as Reuters reported. “We reject any suggestion that economic coercion is an appropriate response to a call for such an assessment, when what we need is global co-operation.”

Australia’s move to investigate the origins of the outbreak, follow growing reports China concealed early information about the virus outbreak.

Payne said an “honest assessment” into the outbreak would most likely result in an effort to strengthen the oversight role of the World Health Organization.

U.S. officials have alleged the World Health Organization was complicit in helping China downplay the severity of the virus early on.

During his interview with the Australian Financial Review, Cheng denied other lines of criticism against China during the coronavirus pandemic, including the widely held view that the virus began in China.

“Some politicians here claim the virus originated in Wuhan, China, which is not the case. The fact that the epidemic first broke out in China… does not mean the source of the virus originated in China,” Cheng said. “The source of the virus is complex and I think a serious scientific issue that should be addressed by professionals, scientists, medical experts.”

Officials in the U.S. State Department, as well as international observers, have characterized the Chinese government as having adopted both an offensive and defense propaganda effort. The offensive Chinese propaganda effort appears to criticize other country’s in their handling of the virus and insinuate that it started in the U.S.

The defensive propaganda effort appears focused on shift the focus of the coronavirus coverage and discussion away from the origin of the virus in China and to instead promote positive press as to how China handled the virus and how it has provided aid to other countries dealing with the outbreak.