by Oleg Burunov
Relations between China and Australia soured last year, when Beijing imposed 80 percent tariffs on Australian barley imports in retaliation for Canberra’s demand for an international inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.
The US National Security Council’s Indo-Pacific Coordinator, Kurt Campbell, has described the normalisation of Chinese-Australian ties as a precondition for Washington taking any substantial step to improve its ties with Beijing.
“We have made clear that the US is not prepared to improve relations in a bilateral and separate context at the same time that a close and dear ally is being subjected to a form of economic coercion”, Campbell said during a video-link summit of the Quad nations, including Australia, India, the US, and Japan.
He underscored that the White House is “not going to leave Australia alone on the field”, referring to US President Joe Biden who was “very direct” with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, saying that “we stood together on this”.
The coordinator, who is sometimes referred to as Biden’s “Asia tsar”, pointed out that Washington had indicated to both Australia and China “at the highest levels” that the White House is “fully aware of what’s going on” in current Beijing-Canberra ties.
“[…] We are not prepared to take substantial steps to improve relations [with China] until those policies are addressed and a more normal interplay between Canberra and Beijing is established”, Campbell emphasised.
The remarks come amid strained bonds between China and Australia that deteriorated in May 2020, when Beijing imposed 80 percent tariffs on barley imports from Australia in retaliation for Prime Minister Morrison’s demand for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.
China then slapped similar tariffs on Australian coal, copper, wine, and lobster, and in December Beijing banned timber imports from the Australian states of South Australia and Tasmania after some pests were detected in the inbound cargo.
Australian farmers called on Trade Minister Simon Birmingham to approach the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and oppose China’s moves, with Birmingham saying that Canberra was “considering all dispute settlement options”.
As far as Washington-Beijing tensions are concerned, they escalated under the Trump administration, as the US and China engaged in a trade row, slapping duties on each other’s goods.
Washington additionally accused Beijing of an espionage campaign, targeting Chinese tech giants, including Huawei, which came amid the White House’s claims that Beijing tried to conceal the COVID-19 pandemic, allegations that China rejects.