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Tensions flare between Australia, China over COVID-19 origin probe proposal

Sydney, Australia / The relationship between Australia and China is it a low point following Beijing’s threat to boycott the Oceanian country’s exports and tourism for having proposed an inquiry into the origin of COVID-19.

Last week, the Liberal-National Coalition pushed for a transparent investigation into the origin of the novel coronavirus, which according to experts originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

“Australia will continue to of course pursue what is a very reasonable and sensible course of action. This is a virus that has taken more than 200,000 lives across the world, it has shut down the global economy – the implications and impacts of this is extraordinary,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday.

“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.”

The proposal, which also seeks to delve into the handling and exchange of information over COVID-19, angered Beijing, which considers the proposed investigation to be politically motivated and serving a sector of United States politics.

Australia, a close ally of Washington, proposed the inquiry soon after US President Donald Trump threatened China with consequences if it was proven that it had been deliberately responsible for causing the pandemic.

The bilateral relations between Australia and China worsened after Beijing’s ambassador to Canberra, Cheng Jingye, spoke of a possible boycott of Australian products such as meat and wine as well as services.

In addition, the threat of a boycott comes as several attacks on people of Chinese or Asian origin in Australia have been reported.

In an interview published in Australian Financial Review on Monday, Cheng warned that if tensions escalated, “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.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg responded to the Chinese ambassador on Wednesday, telling local broadcaster Sky News that his country “won’t bow to economic coercion, we will continue to talk up in Australia’s national interest and we won’t trade off health outcomes for economic outcomes.”

China is Australia’s main trading partner, the bilateral exchange of which stood at AU$235 billion ($153.5 billion) in the financial year 2018-19, representing a 20.5 percent rise year-on-year.

However, the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated due to matters such as the militarization of the Asian giant and the approval in Australia of laws against foreign interference and espionage after uncovering Chinese donations to political parties and cyber attacks on state agencies and universities. (April 29, 2020, EFE/PracticaEspañol)

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