China threatens economic sanctions if Australia investigates Beijing coronavirus response

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China is warning Australia that it could face economic consequences if it does not back down from an investigation into Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus.

Chinese Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye said an investigation could encourage Chinese citizens to boycott Australian products and tourists to avoid traveling to the country.

“Maybe ordinary people will say ‘Why should we drink Australian wine? Eating Australian beef? Cheng said in the interview published on The Australian Financial Review.

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China is the largest market for Australian wine and beef, according to the South China Morning Post.

Australian officials last week called on members of the World Health Organization to support a review of the origins of the virus. The call reflects similar criticism from Beijing from the United States.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Cheng’s threats will not prevent pressure for transparency, calling the remarks “economic coercion”.

“Australia has called in principle for an independent review of the COVID-19 epidemic, an unprecedented global crisis with serious health, economic and social impacts,” she said, according to Sky News. “We reject any suggestion that economic restraint is an appropriate response to a call for such an assessment, when we need global cooperation.”

In 2018, diplomatic relations between the two nations were strained when Australian wine faced import delays in China and beef exports were suspended for some time.

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China has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the virus and faces accusations of not acting sooner to contain its spread and cover the severity of the epidemic. The virus has infected more than 3 million people worldwide and killed more than 205,000 people.

Last week, Beijing rejected calls by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to give international inspectors access to laboratories where pathogens similar to COVID-19 are being studied.

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