The downward spiral in Australia-China relations must stop. The Australian government must take a lead towards a major and long overdue reset.

The Australian government has to understand that if it continually insults China, there will be a reaction. Take, for instance, the recent spat over COVID-19. In an interview with the ABC’s David Speers on “The Insiders” on 19 April 2019, Marise Payne called for an independent and transparent enquiry, Speers pressing her to say whether she trusted China or not. Three days later Morrison gloated of a telephone call to his “mate” Donald Trump, during which COVID-19 was also discussed. Later the media and the Government translated this into an enquiry into the origin and spread of the virus. On 18 May Xi Jinping gave a speech at the World Health Assembly, calling for an inquiry into the “global reaction” to COVID-19. The Australian government and mainstream media interpreted this as “vindication” of Australian leadership into an enquiry.

My take is different. Australia may have a right to take a leading role in calling for an inquiry that will make China more accountable, but it was entirely unnecessary, provocative, senseless and counterproductive. I think China was always happy for an enquiry, but believed, with good reason, that the Australian government was trying to humiliate China as the country that caused the virus to spread through its delinquent hiding of information. China was convinced it had spread information in a timely way and that it was Trump, Johnson and others that had wasted time and grossly mishandled the virus. China favoured a scientific, professional and equal enquiry, but not one intentionally directed against China. By offering $2 billion and vaccines for the common good, rather than as a commercial product, Xi Jinping was the one who gained the most credit.

When the Chinese suspended sales of barley, the assumption was that this was punishment for Australia’s leading the charge for an enquiry and standing up to China. China vociferously denied this and claimed it was a question of dumping. Senator Penny Wong’s implication on “The Insiders” on 24 May that the US was the one that stood to gain from any Australian market loss to China is reasonable. I agree with her suggestion that Morrison should ring his mate Trump to talk about that.

Please click here to read the full “The mess of Australia-China relations?” article published at John Menadue, written by Griffith Asia Institute adjunct researcher, Emeritus Professor Colin Mackerras.