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Australian PM Morrison says misinterpretation of interests behind China tension

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Tension between Australia and China has been driven by incorrect assumptions shaped by rivalry between China and the United States but Australia has its own interest and independent views, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.

Australia’s relationship with China soured in 2018 when it became the first country to publicly ban China’s Huawei from its 5G network, and worsened this year when Australia called for an enquiry into the origins of the novel coronavirus. As ties deteriorated, China imposed tariffs on Australian barley and slowed its imports of Australian beef and coal.

But Morrison said in a speech Australia had been unfairly judged. “Our actions are wrongly seen and interpreted by some only through the lens of the strategic competition between China and the United States,” Morrison said.

“It’s as if Australia does not have its own unique interests or views as an independent sovereign state. This is false and needlessly deteriorates relationships.” Australian government ministers have recently said they wanted to improve communication with China but its foreign ministry has said Australia needed to “take concrete actions to correct their mistakes”.

China is by far Australia’s top overall export market, worth $104 billion in 2019 according to the IMF. So disruption to trade ties could be costly for Australia’s economy, which is already languishing from the impact of the novel coronavirus.

The economy shrank 7% in the three months that ended in June, the most since records began in 1959, while the unemployment rate hit a 22-year high of 7.5% in July.

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