Australia’s new Trade Minister Dan Tehan says Chinese ministers have refused to take calls from their Australian counterparts.
In recent months, China has introduced tariffs and bans on a range of Aussie imports, including wine, barley, lamb, beef, coal, lobster and timber as relations worsen.
Since becoming Trade Minister, Mr Tehan has written to his Chinese counterpart – Commerce Minister Wang Wentao – in a hope to ease tensions.
“My hope is that with the appointment of a new Minister in China, at the same time as my appointment, that we will be able to get a dialogue in the relationship happening again,” Mr Tehan said.
“I’m very keen to start a dialogue with Minister Wang but it’s something I’m happy to be patient for in waiting for a reply and then seeing what form that dialogue takes.”
But this week Mr Tehan confirmed he had yet to receive a reply from Mr Wang and it is reported that several Chinese ministers have not returned phone calls to Australian ministers.
This week Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he will refuse to meet his Chinese counterpart if Beijing demands concessions before talks begin.
Mr Morrison confirmed he was open to meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping to salvage the relationship, which he said remained vital to both parties.
But after China leaked a dossier of 14 grievances with Canberra last November, Mr Morrison warned discussions would not come at the cost of Canberra kowtowing to Beijing’s demands.
“Those discussions, as I’ve made clear, won’t take place on the base of any sort of pre-emptive concessions on Australia’s part on those matters,” he told reporters on Monday.
“I don’t think that any Australian would want their prime minister to be conceding the points that they’ve set out.
“Our position on that is very clear, it’s very honest, it’s very transparent.”
Beijing was angered by Canberra’s push for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 early last year, and Labor has accused the government of exposing Australia by leading the charge without sufficient international backing.
But Mr Morrison said relations had soured over a number of years, and could not be attributed to any one development.
Relations have shown no signs of improving recently, after Beijing launched an attack on Canberra at the United Nations last month, accusing Australia of “racism” and hypocrisy over human rights.
It comes as New Zealand has struck a new trade deal with China after eight years of negotiations.
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, 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.
Qin Sheng, from the Centre for Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific Studies, wrote about the difference between Australia and New Zealand’s relations with China.
“While relations between China and New Zealand have recently been hot, China-Australia ties have come to a low ebb in the past year, with political mutual trust repeatedly undermined by the anti-China moves of the government,” he wrote in The Global Times.
“Economic and trade co-operation is at a low point due to Canberra’s continuous discriminatory measures against Chinese companies,” the piece claimed.