China extends export ban to timber as relations with Australia deteriorate

China is still “offended” by Australia’s comments about COVID-19 and is taking steps to make those feelings clear. Experts say it won’t stop any time soon.

China is still “offended” by Australia’s comments about COVID-19 and is taking steps to make those feelings clear, experts say.

This morning we learned that Victorian timber exports have been blocked from entering China.

The official reason relayed to the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment last night is that several recent shipments contained bark beetles — a pest that feeds on the inner layers of trees.

The timber industry joins wine, coal, barley, copper ore, sugar and seafood industries on the banned list by China Customs.

But the story being told in China’s state media has holes in it, according to Dr Pradeep Taneja, who lectures at the University of Melbourne on Chinese politics and international relations.

“It’s hard to believe that suddenly over the last six months or so that there are so many problems with Australian exports to China,” Dr Pradeep told the ABC’s Virginia Trioli on Friday morning.

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A man walks with the Chinese national flag in a park next to the Yangtze River in Wuhan, China's central Hubei province. Picture: Hector Retamal/AFP

A man walks with the Chinese national flag in a park next to the Yangtze River in Wuhan, China's central Hubei province. Picture: Hector Retamal/AFPSource:AFP

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“It’s hard to believe. There may be, I’m not denying there could be problems. But those problems could be resolved fairly easily if the two countries were talking to each other.

There is really no ministerial level discussions between these two countries.”

Things fell apart when Australia proposed an independent inquiry be established to determine the origins of the coronavirus in China.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne led calls for a global inquiry and received the backing of Labor’s health spokesman Chris Bowen who said “we would expect and trust that China would cooperate”.

China has pushed back hard, refusing to cooperate. Relations soured further when a number of Australian journalists were forced to flee the Communist nation amid a crackdown on foreign reporting.

Dr Taneja says China knows exactly what it is doing with its ban on exports. And that more blockades are likely to follow.

“China’s strategy is to target suppliers from Australia who are then going to make a bit of noise and it is going to stay in the news,” he said.

“I think Australia has been quite restrained. We haven’t seen any retaliation from Australia. We don’t have a trade war because it is one-sided. At the end of the day there has to be some sort of breakthrough.”

Asked whether he believes China will “just keep banning export after export”, Dr Taneja said: “I think this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping waves from a vehicle in Beijing, China on October 1, 2019. Picture: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves from a vehicle in Beijing, China on October 1, 2019. Picture: Thomas Peter/ReutersSource:Supplied

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“China feels offended. China is offended by Australia’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. China behaves more like an empire. It’s not like a normal nation state. China feels it is now up to Australia to make amends.”

At the beginning of this month, China alleged a shipment of rock lobsters worth $2 million had been contaminated and left them sitting on a tarmac in Shanghai while Australian authorities scrambled to find a quick solution.

In September, Australia’s largest grain export CBH found itself on China’s blacklist.

And this week it is timber.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said he would write to China in the coming days to discuss the matter.

While officials walk the diplomatic tightrope with China, the union is talking straight.

“The reasons that China are giving are pretty much in line with the previous behaviour for putting trade pressure on countries that they were having some issues with, and Australia is one of those at the moment,” said Brad Coates from the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining, and Energy Union.

“I think this is as a result of some pretty poor diplomatic efforts from the Australian Government.”

 

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