Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian blamed the ban on violations of quarantine rules on Tuesday night, before promptly warning Australia it could face retaliation over the push for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
“Chinese customs has continuously found that multiple batches of beef products exported to China by individual Australian companies have violated the inspection and quarantine requirements,’’ he said.
When asked by an Australian journalist if he was linking the beef ban and the inquiry, he replied, “I just made it very clear”.
“They are two different things, you’re making a political interpretation”.
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But Liberal-Nationals MP George Christensen said it was clear enough what was going on.
“It’s a bastard act,’’ he told news.com.au.
“My understanding is it’s about a third of Australia’s meat exports to China.
“It’s just wrong. China has just gone into full, bullying, threatening, coercion mode. That’s what I think.
The Queensland MP said China had questions to answer on the spread of the coronavirus.
But rather than engage in a “tit for tat” diplomatic debate he urged Australia to use the Chinese-owned Port of Darwin as a bargaining chip.
“There’s a lot of questions being raised now about the Port of Darwin,’’ he said.
“There is a clear clause in it that says at any point in time it’s deemed to be a national security issue that contract is null and void
“They are positioning thrembsleves directly against us and against our national interests. Certainly, there are bargaining chips out there, like the Port of Darwin.”
Earlier, Mr Christensen told Parliament: “We can keep giving into Communist China’s threats, or we can stand up for our sovereignty and our economic independence.”
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“With more than 36 per cent of our exports being sold to China, representing 7.9 per cent of our GDP, it’s clear we have put too many eggs in the one basket,’’ he said.
“Being so entangled with an authoritarian regime has left our nation open to economic blackmail and boycotts like that mooted by China’s ambassador and the actions against our barley and beef exports.”
Earlier, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham’s attempted to play down the issue.
“Well, Australia’s not in any sort of war,’’ he said.
“Our intention is to work as cooperatively as we can with our partners right across the region and the world, including in terms of the enhancement and growth of economic and trade relations. I think it is worth noting that right through the early months of this year, our export flows have continued to be at incredibly strong levels.”
Samantha Maiden is news.com.au’s national political editor | @samanthamaiden