China’s government seems intent on maintaining its communications freeze with Australian government ministers, brushing off an appeal to reopen dialogue with new Trade Minister Dan Tehan.
- A number of Australian exports have been hit with Chinese tariffs in recent months
- New Trade Minister Dan Tehan has attempted to contact Beijing to discuss the disputes, but has not received a response
- Australian officials have interpreted China’s committal response as a demand for Australia to make concrete concessions
Mr Tehan has written to his Chinese counterpart Wang Wentao, attempting to kickstart discussions on a series of trade disputes.
The relationship between the two nations has sunk to historic lows.
Beijing has hit multiple Australian exports both with formal and informal sanctions, although Chinese authorities have not further escalated the campaign this year.
Several Chinese ministers have refused to take phone calls from their Australian counterparts.
Mr Tehan said on Thursday that he had received no response from Mr Wang, although he reiterated that he would be willing to wait “patiently” for a reply.
And when asked about Mr Tehan’s letter, Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokesperson Gao Feng gave a non-committal response.
“The current difficult situation in China-Australia relations is not what China wants to see. A healthy and stable China-Australia relationship is in accord with interests of both countries,” he said.
He also repeated a talking point often used by Chinese officials, saying “it is hoped that Australia will do more things that are conducive to mutual trust and cooperation between China and Australia, and push China-Australia relations back on track at an early date”.
Australian officials and ministers have interpreted that line as a demand for Australia to make concrete concessions to China in order to begin the process of mending ties.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would not be willing to make any pre-emptive concessions in order to secure talks with Beijing.
Canada and Russia look to Australia’s China WTO challenge
Meanwhile, major grain exporting nations Canada and Russia have formally requested to join World Trade Organisation consultations as part of Australia’s challenge to China’s barley tariffs.
Canada and Russia have now made a request to participate as third parties in the dispute.
Dave McKeon from farm lobby group Grain Growers says their involvement was not an indication of support for either side of the dispute, and that China could ultimately block Russia and Canada from participating.
“At this stage of the case, China does have the ability to choose whether they’ll ultimately allow them to come on as a third party to the case. It would be highly unusual to see China reject one of their major trading partners,” Mr McKeon said.
Mr McKeon likened the involvement of Canada and Russia in the case to two interested trading nations seeking more information about a dispute involving one of their largest customers.
“It’s a bit like ‘hit the subscribe button here if you’ve got an interest in what’s going on’,” Mr McKeon said of the third party requests.
Mr Tehan said both Canada and Russia had “outlined their substantial trade interest in the consultations”.