China’s top economic planner announced on Thursday it had “indefinitely suspended” all strategic and economic dialogue with Australia, amid escalating tensions between the two Asia-Pacific countries since the COVID-19 pandemic began early last year.
The decision by the National Development and Reform Commission to indefinitely suspend “all activities” under the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue was based on “the current attitude of the Australian Commonwealth Government toward China-Australia cooperation,” a statement said.
“Recently, some Australian Commonwealth Government officials launched a series of measures to disrupt the normal exchanges and cooperation between China and Australia out of Cold War mindset and ideological discrimination,” it said.
Australia’s Trade Minister Dan Tehan expressed regret at the suspension of the mechanism, which provided an important platform for the two countries to solve their problems, he said, and that Canberra remained “open to holding the dialogue and engaging at the ministerial level.”
Comprising a series of bilateral talks to facilitate the collaboration between the two countries, the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue usually involves Australia’s treasurer and trade minister to hold meetings with senior Chinese economic policymakers. Canberra had previously described the dialogue as “premier bilateral economic meetings with China,” with the last event held in 2017.
Beijing has implemented customs clearance and tariff restrictions on Australian commodities since the second half of last year, including coal, red wine, beef and barley. It was believed to be in retaliation to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s appeal to Beijing to allow independent investigators to conduct a probe into the origins of COVID-19 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first cluster of infection was found.
The Australian government last month decided to unilaterally cancel agreements between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Victorian state government, which drew criticism from the Chinese embassy in Canberra.
Defense Minister Peter Dutton also said last week that he would review the decision to lease Darwin Port in the country’s north to Chinese investors, and that he might annul the controversial 99-year lease due to national security concerns.
The Chinese and Australian governments have been at loggerheads in recent years, with Canberra voicing concerns over the suppression of the Uyghur Muslim minority in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, the crackdown on Hong Kong’s political freedoms and the lack of transparency in handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to data released by the Australian National University in March, the amount of Chinese investment in Australia has shrunk by nearly 60% in 2020, reaching a six-year low.
While China’s foreign ministry said Australia should seriously reflect on the fall in investment, some Australian scholars suggested that it reflected Canberra’s wariness of Chinese funds, and increased scrutiny on foreign investors.
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