The Chinese ambassador to Australia has threatened that China may boycott Australian imports if the Australian government continues to push for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison made news last week by asking for international support for an independent international investigation into the outbreak, which would presumably include an investigation into the Chinese government's handling of the crisis. Morrison reportedly even brought the issue up during the course of telephone calls with leaders from Germany, France, and the United States.
Even before the coronavirus outbreak, relations between China and Australia were already at a breaking point after Australian authorities uncovered a plot late last year in which the Chinese government reportedly attempted to plant a spy in the Australian parliament. Further recent allegations of spying rankled Australians when Australian media reported that the Chinese government may have spied on Chinese scientists who were studying live bats in Australia in order to determine the origins of the coronavirus.
Morrison's call for an independent investigation appears to have rankled the Chinese government to the point that China's ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, threatened a Chinese boycott of Australian goods like beef and wine. Jingye claimed, for the benefit of any extremely naive people, that the threat was merely meant to indicate that average Chinese consumers would stop buying Australian products.
The Australian government, which is not naive, fired back at the Chinese response Monday. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said, "We reject any suggestion that economic coercion is an appropriate response to a call for such an assessment, when what we need is global cooperation."
Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham also condemned the Chinese threats.
"Australia's position is very clear that we believe it is entirely reasonable ... for there to be a genuine inquiry and investigation into the cause of the loss of life of hundreds of thousands of people around the world," he said. "We won't be changing our public policy position, on the face of such a serious public health matter, in the face of any threats of coercion from any other nation."
China is currently Australia's largest export market for beef and wine. Around a quarter of all Australian exports are currently sold in China.