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Trade Minister fires back at Chinese ambassador over economic boycott threat

Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has hit out at the Chinese ambassador to Australia over suggestions the Chinese may boycott Australian products and services if the government continues its push for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, Chinese ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, said tourists “may have second thoughts” about visiting Australia, or sending their children to study in a place that is “not so friendly, even hostile”.

His comments follow a push from the Morrison government for an independent probe into the early handling of the pandemic.

Mr Birmingham said Australia will not compromise on matters of international interest in response to coercion from China.

“We’re very disappointed by it and we have registered our displeasure with the ambassador,” he told 3AW’s Tom Elliott.

“In no way is the Australian government going to change our public policy positions on matters of public health, or national security, or other matters in Australia’s national interest, in response to … economic coercion or the like from other countries.

“We’ve seen something where hundreds of lives around the world are being lost, people are dying, where probably hundreds of millions of jobs have been lost, and billions of people have had their lives disrupted.

“The least the world should expect is that there’s some sort of independent, transparent investigation to make sure we can do the best thing possible to prevent a repeat of this in the future.”

But the federal Trade Minister acknowledged Australia’s economy would take a significant blow if Mr Cheng’s prediction were to eventuate.

“Australia wants to maintain positive relations with China, as a valued partner, including as a significant trading partner, and we’ll continue to work hard to do that,” he said.

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