A deal struck between New Zealand and Beijing will make Australia “envious” and should serve as a “wake up call” for Canberra, Chinese state-owned media says.
New Zealand has upgraded its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China after eight years of negotiations, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lauding Beijing as a key trading partner on Tuesday.
The move comes after months of deteriorating relations between China and Australia, accelerated by Canberra’s leading role in pushing for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.
Beijing’s mouthpiece The Global Times on Wednesday described the deal as a “wake up call” for Canberra, saying it would give New Zealand “some edge” over Australia in the Chinese market.
“New Zealand’s deepening economic and trade co-operation with China will probably make exporters in neighbouring Australia envious,” it said.
Tensions between Beijing and Canberra have heightened over recent years, after Australia blocked Chinese-owned Huawei from contributing to its 5G network over security concerns.
Canberra’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 in April was followed by a raft of Chinese sanctions on Australian industries.
The Global Times accused Australia of “strangling healthy trade relations … (by) provoking and vilifying” China, but insisted the New Zealand FTA was not targeted at any third country.
“If China-Australia relations were on a normal track, New Zealand’s exports to China would not trigger any sense of crisis among Australian businesses,” it said.
The Global Times also cited Professor Chen Hong, whose Australian visa was cancelled in September after ASIO deemed him a security risk, as saying “Canberra should consider Wellington as (a) model and restore its relations with China by taking concrete action”.
Australia signed its own FTA with China in 2015, ensuring 95 per cent of Australian exports to China would be tariff-free.
But it accused Beijing of breaching the agreement in December, and has complained to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over Chinese tariffs imposed on Australian barley.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack insisted on Wednesday new Trade Minister Dan Tehan would do his best to repair the relationship with China.
“These are very difficult times,” he said.
“China knows that we have the best resources, that we have the best food and fibre.”
Mr McCormack said the government would continue to engage with China through diplomatic channels.
He said Australia wanted to trade with a number of countries, including China.
“We‘re at the top of the league tables in every respect,” he said.
“The world knows that, China knows that.”
“We want, of course, not just to trade with China but with a number of countries.”