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Australia told to ‘envy’ New Zealand trade ties with China

Jessica Yun
·4-min read
TOPSHOT - A member of a Chinese military honour guard holds a red flag prior to a meeting between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 18, 2016. / AFP / FRED DUFOUR        (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP via Getty Images)
A member of a Chinese military honour guard holds a red flag prior to a meeting between Chinese and New Zealand leaders in 2016. (Photo credit: FRED DUFOUR/AFP via Getty Images)

China and New Zealand have renewed their existing free trade agreement in a move that should make Australia “envious”, according to The Global Times.

The Chinese state-owned publication praised the economic cooperation between New Zealand and China amid deteriorating bilateral ties with Australia.

Wellington and Beijing on Tuesday inked a deal to upgrade the nations’ existing free trade pact, which obliterates nearly all trade tariffs on products like dairy, timber and seafood, and also reduces compliance costs.

The Global Times’ latest editorial lauded the new trade agreement as “a sign of expanding economic cooperation when it comes to trade practices”, and added that it came during a time where “the China-Australia relationship has sunk to its lowest point in decades”.

The editorial suggested that Australian business would be hit harder, with New Zealand products preferred over Aussie goods.

“Given the fact that there is [a] competitive relationship between agricultural and dairy goods exports from New Zealand and Australia to China, the new free trade agreement signed by New Zealand will undoubtedly give its products some edge over Australia's in the Chinese market,” the editorial stated.

“Such development could be interpreted by some as indirect pressure on Australian exports at a time when Canberra is overly sensitive about any setback in its trade with China due to their fraught relations.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 01: Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks as Australian Foreign Minister Marice Payne looks on during a press conference on February 01, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. The Australian government announced all non-Australian citizens travelling from mainland China to Australia will be denied entry. Australian Citizens or residents will be permitted but will be quarantined for two weeks. The government also raised the travel ban to level 4 discouraging all travel to mainland China. (Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images)
Under Scott Morrison's time as Prime Minister, Australia-China relations have sunk to its lowest point in history. (Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images)

Australia’s relationship with China has been deteriorating for several months, ever since Canberra led the push for an independent World Health Organisation (WHO) inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

The Asian economic giant has imposed tariffs or trade restrictions on a growing list of Australian goods, such as barley, copper, wheat, sugar, lobsters, wine, coal, and more.

But the editorial defended Beijing’s approach of trade cooperation, pointing to China’s participation in RCEP – the world’s largest trade deal in history, spanning 15 countries – as further evidence of the Asian superpower’s “commitment to multilateralism and free trade”.

“If China-Australia relations were on a normal track, New Zealand's exports to China would not trigger any sense of crisis among Australian businesses,” the editorial said.

“The current difficulties facing bilateral relations are of Australia's own making.

“Only a real change in Canberra's hostile attitude towards China can ease the tensions, and reset bilateral trade ties between the two sides.”

‘Ball in Australia’s court’

In a separate editorial also published on Tuesday, the Global Times noted that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had said he was open to discussions with Chinese President Xi Jinping so long as there were no “pre-emptive concessions”.

But the publication indicated that actions would speak louder than words, accusing Canberra of failing to show “real action” and for persistently blaming Beijing for the strained relationship.

“What is important here is not what Australia has said, but what real actions it will take,” it read.

The editorial outlined a path for a relationship “reset” between the two countries.

“Australia can take actual steps to promote improvements, stopping provoking and smearing China over a string of issues that concern China's core interests.”

It also targeted the Morrison Government specifically and said it needed to make some “deep reflections”.

“What are Australia's national interests? Is the current China policy in line with Australia's national interests? The Morrison administration has to make serious self-introspections on these questions,” the publication stated.

“The fact is Australia is the culprit for the broken bilateral ties.”

In late December, China studies academic Diane Hu said Australia’s relationship with China will only get worse.

“The strategic and security aspect of bilateral relations between China and Australia will tend to grow more contentious,” Hu said.

“With both sides unlikely to back down in any of the above areas and shrinking policy space among megaphone diplomacy and unwise messaging, it is getting increasingly unrealistic to imagine a reset in China-Australia relations for the near future.”

The latest editorial pieces follow relentless attacks from Chinese state media that points the finger squarely at Canberra and the Morrison Government for failing to repair the damaged relationship.

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