China punishes Australia for promoting an inquiry into covid-19

May 21, 2020

CHINA’S AMBASSADOR to Australia, Cheng Jingye, recently warned Australia it was treading a “dangerous” path by pressing for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus (one that might reveal China doing more to suppress information about early infections than to quash the outbreak itself). If relations between the two countries soured, Mr Cheng threatened, Chinese tourists might have “second thoughts” about holidaying Down Under. Families might wonder whether Australia really was the “best place to send their kids” to study. Ordinary Chinese might no longer want to “drink Australian wine, eat Australian beef”.

In the event, China this week agreed to an inquiry, in the face of international pressure at the World Health Organisation’s annual assembly (held online). But it did so after slapping tariffs of over 80% on Australian barley on May 18th, having already banned beef from Australia’s four biggest abattoirs on May 12th.

The abattoir ban blocks perhaps 35% of Australia’s exports of beef to China. Karen Penfold, whose family is among the exporters affected, says it has been scrambling to find other buyers for its prime steak. Barley growers, based mostly in Australia’s west, send at least half, or A$600m ($393m), of their annual exports to China, where the grain is used as animal feed and to make...

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