China uses trade as a weapon to silence virus criticism

WELLINGTON: In trying to silence criticism of the pandemic, China is deploying a widely used weapon _ trade sanctions.

Beijing has blocked some imports of Australian beef after Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government, backed by, called for a solid investigation into the origins of the outbreak and rejected Chinese demands to withdraw.

The move is the first time that Beijing uses access to its huge markets as leverage in its campaign to deflect blame for the outbreak. But he has regularly used the tactic against governments from Norway to Canada in political disputes for the past decade.

`` What China is really doing is sending a political shot through the arches, '' said Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy, a group of experts. `` They say to Australia, 'Don't worry about an open and independent investigation.' ''

China has too much at stake to destroy its trade relationship with Australia entirely, Jennings said, and has left behind only its largest Australian imports such as iron ore and coal because it needs a reliable supplier.

However, Beijing has suspended meat imports from four Australian slaughterhouses and is threatening huge tariffs on barley in moves that it says are simply regulations.

But Australia is not backing down.

`` We are upholding our values ​​and the things we know are always important, '' Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Friday.

He said Australia draws clear lines on certain topics `` And those things should not be exchanged, ever. ''

Chinese Minister Wang Yi was quoted by the official as saying that foreign politicians had `` insisted on politicizing the epidemic, labeling the virus and smearing the Organization '' and that China should be commended for controlling the outbreak there and helping to other countries.

The Chinese state newspaper Global Times this week said the hostile measures by the Morrison government had brought the relationship to a standstill.

`` You can't have your cake and eat it too, it's a proverb that could come in handy for some Australian officials, who continue to escalate tensions with China while waiting for bilateral trade to remain intact, '' the Times wrote.

The relationship between countries has been difficult since 2018 when Australia blocked the Chinese-owned tech company. Huawei since the launch of a new 5G network, citing security concerns. Last year, China suspended Australian coal imports after the Australian government terminated a visa for a prominent Chinese businessman.

Tensions have also increased due to concern over Chinese political influence.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said the suspension of meat imports was simply to protect consumers after Australian companies `` violated inspection and quarantine requirements. ''

Chinese officials routinely refuse to confirm that a trade disruption is related to a political shock, but make it clear that Beijing wants concessions.

Last year, Beijing blocked imports of canola as it stepped up pressure for Canada to release a Huawei executive who was detained on U.S. charges. The Chinese government said it found pests in Canadian shipments, which the suppliers said was unlikely.

China began blocking Philippine banana imports in 2012 in a dispute over territory in the South China Sea. Beijing lifted import restrictions only after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte launched a diplomatic campaign to increase trade, political and investment ties with China.

And in 2010, China blocked Norwegian salmon imports and canceled trade talks after dissident Liu Xiaobo received the Peace Prize from an independent committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament.

But despite imposing sanctions on certain Australian products, China has been buying more from others as its factories come back into action after the blockades. Jennings said the increase may be only temporary and that the real threat to Australian exports could come from a prolonged global recession.