China rejects Australian beef after PM Morrison calls for independent COVID-19 investigation

Foreign Affairs
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets with President Xi Jinping during the G20 in Osaka, Japan.
/ Credit: Image via Adam Taylor/Prime Minister's Office.

Beijing has a beef with Australia: Despite a half-hearted denial from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country seems to be rejecting beef imports from Australia in retaliation for Canberra’s COVID-19 activism:

Last month, Australian officials joined their counterparts in countries including Britain, France, Germany, and the United States in calling for transparency from China about the origins of the coronavirus. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison went further, however, and proposed reforms to the World Health Organization that would enable an international investigation on Chinese soil.

Morrison’s proposal outraged the Chinese ambassador to Australia, Chéng Jìngyè 成竞业, who gave an interview in which he suggested that Chinese tourists, students, and consumers may boycott Australia if Morrison’s government continued to pursue the “dangerous” idea of an international inquiry. Australian and Chinese officials and media went after one another’s throats, plunging Australia-China relations to a new low, as we summarized on SupChina.

Today, the Sydney Morning Herald reports:

China has suspended imports from four large red meat abattoirs, fuelling concern of a campaign by Beijing against Australian producers in response to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s push for an independent coronavirus inquiry.

The meat export freeze follows China’s threats to impose severe anti-dumping tariffs on Australian barley exports, worth $600 million due to drought last year.

The beef import suspensions are almost certainly retaliation from Beijing for Morrison’s investigation push:

For one, the Chinese foreign ministry didn’t do much to deny that this was a pressure tactic. Spokesperson Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚 said that the move was meant to “safeguard Chinese consumers’ health and safety,” but immediately added that “China always develops friendly cooperation with other countries based on mutual respect and equality,” and there are “concerns that the Australian side’s recent erroneous words and deeds have upset the Chinese people and that they may impact bilateral relations.”

In response to a follow-up question specifically asking Zhao to “disconnect” the beef import holdup from Australia’s calls for coronavirus investigations, Zhao simply said, “I just stated very clearly the Chinese government’s position.”

Second, we have seen China use the holdup of agricultural goods to pressure another country over hot-button political issues recently: Canada. For Canada, trade of both canola oil and pork were held up by China at various times in the past year and a half. For more, see: