China is warning Australia that it could face economic consequences if it doesn’t back off from an investigation into Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus.
Chinese Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye said a probe could encourage Chinese citizens to boycott Australian products. Furthermore for Chinese tourists to avoid travel to the country.
“Maybe the ordinary people will say ‘Why should we drink Australian wine? Eat Australian beef?” Cheng said in the interview published on The Australian Financial Review.
China is the largest market for Australian wine and beef, according to the South China Morning Post.
Australian officials last week called for members of the World Health Organization to support a review into the origins of the virus. The call mirrors similar criticisms of Beijing from the United States.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Cheng’s threats will not deter a push for transparency, calling the remarks “economic coercion.”
“Australia has made a principled call for an independent review of the COVID-19 outbreak, an unprecedented global crisis with severe health, economic and social impacts,” she said, according to Sky News. “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.”
In 2018, diplomatic relations between both nations became strained when Australian wine faced import delays in China and beef exports were suspended for a time.
China has come under intense criticism over its handling of the virus. It faces accusations of failing to take action sooner to contain its spread and covering up the severity of the outbreak. The virus has infected over 3 million people worldwide and killed more than 205,000.
Beijing last week rejected calls from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to give international inspectors access to laboratories where pathogens similar to COVID-19 are studied.