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‘Nail in the coffin’: Beijing fires new shot at Canberra

·3-min read
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 07: Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House on December 07, 2020 in Canberra, Australia. The Federal Government will introduce its much-anticipated overhaul of industrial relations laws prompted by the upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic. The shake-up includes new arrangements for casual workers that could leave them with stronger rights for ongoing employment and limit employers' liability on paying casual leave loadings as well as paying other benefits however the legislation will not be voted on until 2021. (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images)
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

China’s state-owned English publication has levelled fresh criticism at the Australian Government, accusing it of “discrimination against Chinese companies” and politicising trade issues.

In a new editorial, the Chinese Communist Party-controlled publication China Daily slammed Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s decision to reportedly block the state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation’s $300 million bid to acquire construction firm Probuild.

According to the AFR, Frydenberg’s rebuff was over national security concerns, and the Corporation’s connections to the Asian superpower’s military.

Probuild has built sensitive buildings including the Victorian Police headquarters and biotech company and COVID-19 vaccine producer CSL’s Melbourne headquarters.

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China Daily said the move would “only increase the strain on the two countries’ already fraught relations”.

“The move is the latest act of discrimination against Chinese companies by the Australian Government. It violates not only market economy principles but also the spirit of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement,” the editorial stated.

“In fact, it is another nail in the coffin Australia seems intent on building for pragmatic cooperation.”

The editorial comes just days after Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian hit out at the bid rejection.

“This is the latest example of how the Australian government has been politicising trade and investment issues, violating market principles and the spirit of the China-Australia free trade agreement, and imposing discriminatory measures on Chinese companies,” he said.

The editorial went on to accuse Australia of “habitually” blaming China for the relationship breakdown. “But the latest development shows clearly that it is Australia that is poisoning ties,” it declared.

“The Australian government claims it wants friendly relations with China but its actions repeatedly reveal its lack of sincerity. Rather than seeking to sweeten the climate for bilateral cooperation, it instead continues to sour it further.”

The piece pointed to the widely publicised ban of Chinese telco Huawei from rolling out 5G in Australia as a further example of Australia “put[ting] up roadblocks to Chinese companies’ normal business operations under the pretext of national security”.

“The latest move shows that despite any words to the contrary, Canberra continues to view Beijing through a prejudicial lens.”

The editorial defended Chinese businesses, saying they abided by international laws and regulations.

‘Doomed’: Beijing expert

Australia-China ties are likely to get worse, according to Beijing Foreign Studies University’s Australian Studies Centre assistant professor Diane Hu.

“The strategic and security aspect of bilateral relations between China and Australia will tend to grow more contentious,” Hu wrote in a recent analysis piece.

Though the China Daily editorial points the finger at instances that Australia has blocked deals with Chinese businesses, China has in recent months imposed tariffs or restrictions on several Australian exports, including wine, barley, coal, lobster, timber, red meat, and cotton.

Most recently, the Global Times – another state-owned mouthpiece – recently reported that local Chinese fruit traders had slammed Australian cherries as “inferior”.

“The share of Australian cherries in Chinese market … has dropped due to the inferior quality of the product given the reserved seasonality,” the Times wrote.

“The taste and quality of Australian cherries is not as good as it once was,” one fruit grower reportedly said.

“Chilean cherries have the largest share in Chinese market, with better quality and lower price.”

And while the Asian economic giant is importing more iron ore than ever, Hu pointed out that Chinese investment in other areas of Australia has been dwindling for three years in a row.

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