A war of words is brewing over Australia’s push for a coronavirus probe.
A war of words is brewing over Australia’s push for a coronavirus probe.

‘Cheap’: Australia hits back at China taunt

After China labelled Australia's push for an international coronavirus probe "a joke" yesterday, our trade minister has hit back - accusing the Asian superpower of "cheap politicking".

A spat erupted yesterday when Beijing's top diplomat in Canberra said Australia "taking responsibility" for the probe is "nothing but a joke" after 137 countries signed a Canberra-led motion at the World Health Assembly for an independent investigation into the virus.

Overnight, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said he would not engage in a "war of words" with China after the taunt. But in the same breath he accused China of playing cheap politics over the issue.

"Australia is not going to engage in cheap politicking over an issue as important as COVID-19,' Senator Birmingham told Sky News.

"COVID-19 has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world, including Chinese lives. It's caused economic devastation with the loss of millions of jobs, including Chinese jobs.

Simon Birmingham accused China of play “cheap” politics with the issue. Picture: AAP
Simon Birmingham accused China of play “cheap” politics with the issue. Picture: AAP

"I would have thought the ­appropriate response from China's ambassador in Australia would have been to welcome those outcomes."

It came after an independent review into the coronavirus was passed at the World Health Assembly overnight.

The probe was pushed for by Australia from the get-go, but China says there are big differences between what was agreed last night and what we initially asked for.

The WHA resolution commits to an impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation of the international response to the pandemic.

Led by the European Union and co-sponsored by more than 130 World Health Organisation member states, the motion passed late on Tuesday night. In a joint statement, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Australian government welcomed the adoption of the "landmark resolution".

"There is also a clear mandate to identify the source of the COVID-19 virus and how it was transmitted to humans, which will be necessary to prevent and reduce the risks of the emergence of new diseases that pass from animals to humans," the statement said.


"Australia has been clear and transparent in calling for an independent review into COVID-19, which is an unprecedented global health and economic crisis.

"Australia will continue to be a consistent and constructive voice in the international community to advance and protect our national interest and the global interest."

China agreed to support an investigation after more than 110 countries co- sponsored the motion at the WHA on Monday night.

However, Australia's push for the inquiry into the origin of the virus sparked fury from Beijing, with diplomatic ties between the two nations under intense pressure.

Senior government figures claim the inquiry vindicates the government's stance, prompting a scathing response from China's embassy in Australia.

"The draft resolution on COVID-19 to be adopted by the World Health Assembly is totally different from Australia's proposal of an independent international review," a spokesman said.

"To claim the WHA's resolution a vindication of Australia's call is nothing but a joke." Nationals senator Matt Canavan, a former resources minister, said those comments were clearly provocative but hardly surprising.

"The conduct of the Chinese government over this period, but also the last few years, has been hard to predict and increased risk for Australian business," he told ABC television.

Senior cabinet minister David Littleproud denied the investigation was about confronting China.

"This wasn't about persecution, this was about understanding a pandemic that 300,000 souls lost their lives to," he said in Toowoomba.



"We should be damn proud Australia is now leading the world."

Mr Hunt argued Australia's case for the inquiry at the assembly. He said the probe should look at health risks from wildlife wet markets, where the virus is likely to have originated in China.

"We need to learn the lessons from this pandemic and ensure we have the strongest possible global health architecture, with an enhanced ability to prevent and respond to future outbreaks," he said.

The WHO promised the review would happen at the earliest appropriate time. US President Donald Trump supported the probe by tweeting a link to an AAP/SBS story on the motion.

Chinese President Xi Jinping also backed the WHO-led review, saying his country had acted with openness, transparency and responsibility all along. He promised China would stump up $3.1 billion over the next two years to help deal with the disease.

Australia's relations with China have come under further strain after Beijing slapped an 80 per cent tariff on barley imports and banned beef imports from four abattoirs.

COVID-19 has killed 100 people across Australia, with fewer than 600 cases still active out of more than 7000 total.





Originally published as 'Cheap': Australia hits back at China taunt