Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack has backed World Health Organisation investigators to “get the answers they need” despite fears China will attempt to impede a probe into the coronavirus.
The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) international team has touched down in Wuhan to investigate the origins of COVID-19, first detected in the city in late-2019.
Australia called for the investigation in April, a move widely viewed as triggering months of escalating trade tensions between Canberra and Beijing.
China has slapped trade sanctions on a range of Australian products since Canberra’s push, but Mr McCormack downplayed suggestions the WHO’s arrival would hamper efforts to mend relations.
“Our phone lines are always open, our doors are always open (to Beijing),” he told reporters on Friday.
“As far as diplomatic relations with China and trade are concerned, I know how important it is for producers … to ensure we continue our trade with China, which is worth $149.6bn.”
Concerns have been raised over Beijing’s willingness to allow a transparent investigation after it temporarily blocked investigators from entering, citing visa approval issues.
Mr McCormack would not be drawn on whether Beijing would attempt to impede the probe but backed the WHO to conduct its work “very diligently”.
“I’m not going to get into a debate about what China should or shouldn’t do,” he said.
“I’m sure that the World Health Organisation, being the robust organisation that it is, will make sure that its inquiries are what they need to be.
“They will … undertake their work in the most professional manner. I’m sure they’ll come up with the answers they need.”
Mr McCormack also pushed back against one of the more bizarre salvos in the China-Australia trade stoush after Beijing criticised Australian cherries for being “inferior … in taste and quality” compared with their Chilean equivalents.
Australian cherry growers hit back on Thursday, saying they offered the “premium cherry product in the world”.
Mr McCormack rubbished claims overseas cherry growers produced superior fruits.
“They’re certainly not better. I’ve tasted both Batlow and Young cherries … They were the biggest, plumpest, ripest, most tasty cherries I’ve ever had,” he said.
“They went down very well on the Christmas dinner table, let me tell you. I’m sure wherever else they produce cherries in Australia, they are the best. You want to get stuck into them, they’re great: red, juicy and plump.”