Julie Bishop is all smiles, but China is making it clear it has a big problem with Australia

Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Buenos Aires ahead of G20 talks this week. Julie Bishop / Twitter

  • Beijing says relations with Canberra have “faced difficulties” and that Australia needs to “take off its tinted glasses”.
  • Chinese state media suggests Beijing could cut imports of wine and beef up to a value of $US10 billion.
  • A Coalition MP, meanwhile, has used parliamentary privilege to claim a Chinese-born billionaire funded an attempt to bribe a senior UN official.

The Chinese government has publicly accused the Australian government of being responsible for a deterioration in relations between the two countries, saying diplomatic relations had “faced difficulties” which had “dampened our exchanges and cooperation”.

State media has today suggested China could impose trade sanctions on Australia totalling up to $US10 billion, while Beijing has used pointed diplomatic language to indicate that for relations to improve, “one fundamental issue needs to be sorted out”: that Canberra needs to change how it thinks about China.

And in a development that will not help what is clearly China’s increasingly dim view of Australia, a Coalition MP last night used parliamentary privilege to claim a Chinese-born Australian billionaire funded an attempt to offer a $200,000 bribe to the president of the UN General Assembly in 2013.

Comments from politicians about rising Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia are a key source of Beijing’s disillusionment, which is now spilling out into the open. Australia is also concerned about the projection of Chinese military power in the Pacific.

Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop met yesterday with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the fringes of the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, and tweeted afterwards that there was a “warm discussion” with her counterpart.

But Beijing has indicated the meeting came at Bishop’s request and, in a statement, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Wang had made it clear that “for a sound China-Australia relationship to work out, one fundamental issue needs to be sorted out, which is that the Australian side must adopt a correct perspective”.

Lu said (emphasis added):

State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi clearly pointed out that first, China-Australia relations have recently faced difficulties, which even dampened our exchanges and cooperation, and that is something China does not wish to see. Second, China has noticed the various positive statements made by senior Australian officials, including by Ms. Bishop herself, on improving ties with China and on adopting a correct understanding of China’s development. They expressed the strong will of the Australian side to improve bilateral relations and China is also ready to communicate with the Australian side over the issue in due course. Third, China attaches importance to its relationship with Australia. We hope that the Australian side could act upon its goodwill with concrete actions. Fourth, [Wang] stressed that if Australia sincerely hopes that the relations between the two countries could return to the right track and sustain sound development, then it must break away from its traditional thinking, take off its tinted glasses to look at China’s development from a more positive angle, and provide more driving force for cooperation between the two countries.

China is by far Australia’s largest trading partner, accounting for almost a quarter of Australia’s two-way trade. It is Australia’s biggest source of tourists and the biggest buyer of Australia’s top exports, iron ore and coal.

In an editorial today, the state-run media outlet Global Times said Beijing should “cool” relations with Australia and suggested curbing Chinese imports of wine and beef by as much as $10 billion.

The Global Times wrote:

Metal ore is Australia’s major export to China. As long as China is in need of the metal exports, and a replacement remains difficult to find, they will continue to import them. But when it comes to wine and beef, China can easily import those items from the US, replacing Australia.

The scope of import reductions could be limited. Last year, Australia exported $76.45 billion in goods to China. Lowering Aussie exports by $6.45 billion would send cold chills up and down the spine of Australia. Of course, it would be an even greater shock if the import reductions totaled $10 billion.

China has been very friendly toward Australia, but their arrogant attitudes in return over the past two years have become a virtual example of what it means to “bite the hand that feeds.”

The suggestion of trade sanctions by official state media came weeks after Beijing showed its willingness to impose similar measures against the US represents yet another worrying escalation of diplomatic tensions.