State leaders are begging the Morrison government to play nice with China over fears growing tensions will hurt local jobs and industries.
It’s a tactic Prime Minister Scott Morrison looks set to adopt this week after he warned Coalition colleagues on Tuesday against giving more air time to China’s provocative social media attack on Australia.
On Monday, he slammed the post – which was a reference to alleged war crimes of Australian troops in Afghanistan – describing it as “repugnant” and a “slur”.
The PM demanded China apologise and Twitter remove it, but neither was forthcoming.
Harden up, Australia
China has now gone a step further by accusing Australian politicians who expressed outrage over the tweet of being too sensitive.
“The rage and roar of some Australian politicians and media is nothing but misreading of and overreaction to Mr Zhao’s tweet,” a Chinese embassy spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
“The accusations made are simply to serve two purposes. One is to deflect public attention from the horrible atrocities by certain Australian soldiers. The other is to blame China for the worsening of bilateral ties. There may be another attempt to stoke domestic nationalism.
“All of this is obviously not helpful to the resetting of bilateral relationship. It’s our advice that the Australian side face up to the crimes committed by the Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, hold those perpetrators accountable and bring justice to the victims.”
Calls for calm
Meanwhile, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan have called for cool heads to prevail so trade talks can resume between Australia and its biggest trading partner.
Jobs are on the line.
Australia is already feeling the crunch after China slapped tariffs on our barley industry in May and restricted our coal imports in October.
To rub salt in the wound, the economic powerhouse is now imposing tariffs on Australian wines.
On Tuesday, Ms Palaszczuk said she wanted Mr Morrison to ease tensions with China before the squeeze on her state’s coal sector worsened.
Even before China imposed restrictions, Queensland’s coal exports had slumped 3.1 per cent in 2019-20 due to a decline in demand related to COVID-19 in the June quarter.
Spot prices for coking coal fell 24.5 per cent and prices of thermal coal fell 33.4 per cent between January and August and September.
Queensland’s coal royalties are expected to fall from $3.5 billion in 2019-20 to $1.6 billion in the current financial year.
The state budget, handed down on Tuesday, said demand had been showing signs of recovery, but that was until China began restricting coal imports in October.
“We would encourage the federal government to resume trade relationship talks, because what the mining companies are saying to me is that the last thing they want to see are mines closed in Queensland,” Ms Palaszczuk said on Tuesday.
“We will always stand up for Queensland jobs in this state.”
The Sunshine State is not the only one that’s worried.
On Tuesday, WA’s Mr McGowan said he was concerned our multibillion-dollar iron ore industry will be next on the chopping block.
For years, China has been our main export destination for Australian iron ore.
A staggering 80 per cent of all iron ore exported in October went to China, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows.
Iron ore is usually smelted to make pig iron, which is then used to make steel for building things like trains, buildings and cars.
When asked if he thought China would also impose tariffs on iron ore, Mr McGowan said: “I am concerned”.
“They buy an enormous amount of our products, we buy a much smaller amount of their products,” he told reporters.
“It has been a beneficial relationship for both countries and I think we need to make sure we have cool heads and work things out by discussion and not confrontation.”
Half of all WA’s exports are sent to China, and the state exports more goods to China than all the other states and territories combined.