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China-Australia Tensions Escalate Over Scrap Agreements With Foreign Nations

After passing the law that grants Australian lawmaker to scrap any agreement with foreign country, China has issued warning. The tensions began when Australian leaders, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for the investigation of the origin of Covid19 virus and its implications worldwide by China also aggrieved over Australia's participation in Malabar Exercise with the Quad.

Photo Credit : reuters

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Australia's parliament on Tuesday voted to grant Canberra new powers to tear up agreements signed with foreign countries. Australia can exercise it under the provision of security threat. China had earlier warned that the legislation was among a raft of grievances responsible for "poisoning" bilateral ties. This could be marked the lowest point in China-Australia relations in 50 years. 

Responding to such warnings from China, Greg Moriarty, the head of Australia’s defence department, also warned that a number of countries in the Indo-Pacific were deeply anxious about the future prospects for peace and stability when increasing competition between China and the United States was causing friction.

According to the reports, under the new law, Australia's foreign minister will be able to scrap agreements between other nations and sub-national bodies such as state and territory governments, local councils and universities where he or she believes that they undermine foreign policy.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the legislation would ensure agreements were consistent with Australia's foreign policy in an "increasingly globalised world".The newly-passed legislation is likely to further escalate tensions between Australia and China after the latter included it on a list of 14 grievances, which it said were responsible for "poisoning" ties.

The list was released last month by Chinese Embassy in Canberra which also takes account of Canberra's 2018 ban on Huawei's involvement in 5G. List also sights the adverse media report in Australia on Huawei. 

"It certainly is not going to help alleviate the current [fight] between the two governments but as Beijing has the right to decide the scope of China's engagement with foreign countries, so does Canberra," said Nathan Attrill, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which is part-funded by the Australian, US and British governments.

Sino-Australian relations have been in a downward spiral since April, when Canberra called for an independent international inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has sought attention of international community, calling for investigation in Wuhan which might help understand the origin and possible deterrence. Retaliating, China has in recent months slapped several restrictions amounting to billions of dollars of Australian exports, including beef, barley and wine, citing dumping and other trade violations.

Already wrecked up economy due to Covid19 induced pandemic,China has begun to mount economic pressure on Australia by banning beef imports and raising tariff on Australian wine. China accounting for about 35 percent of Australia’s total trade and according to some estimation,It could cost about 6 percent of its GDP.  while, Australia accounts for less than 4 percent of China’s commerce.

Amid deteriorating relations between the two countries, earlier this month, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian shared a doctored image on his Twitter handle in which a special forces soldier is seen slitting with a knife the throat of an Afghan child whose head was wrapped in an Australian flag.

Despite Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison slamming the Chinese government for the "outrageous and disgusting slur" and seeking an apology, China refused to apologise and  excoriated Australia for the alleged war crimes committed by its forces in Afghanistan while Chinese state media slammed it for treating “China’s goodwill with evil”. In a series of salvo, Prime minister has indicated Australia will not reverse its China policy.

China also seems to be infuriated by the Australian participation in the Malabar naval exercise earlier this month. The mega exercise took place at a time India and China are locked in an over six-month-long bitter border standoff in eastern Ladakh. A group of four countries -- India, U.S., Japan and Australia-- participated in high level naval exercise in the bay of Bengal and northern Arabian Sea.  Australia came back to Malabar in 2020, and it was the first time in 13 years that all members of the regional grouping-- the Quad--engaging militarily.