China’s ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, told the Australian Financial Review that Chinese people may decide to avoid Australian goods if relations between the two nations continued to deteriorate.
Cheng used the interview to criticise Australia’s push for an independent review into the origins of coronavirus. Beijing has expressed concerns about a US-led blame game.
The ambassador was quoted as saying that, if relations turned sour over the longer-term, ‘maybe the ordinary people will say “Why should we drink Australian wine? Eat Australian beef”?’.
Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, said that any attempt at ‘economic coercion’ was not an acceptable response to calls for a review into the outbreak of coronavirus, or Covid-19.
Other high-profile Chinese figures have also criticised Australia. Hu Xijin, editor of the state-owned Global Times newspaper, was recently quoted as describing Australia as ‘a bit like chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes’.
It remains to be seen whether the tension will escalate beyond political rhetoric.
However, China is the biggest market for Australian wine exports by value and shipments have grown in recent years, boosted by a free trade agreement between the two countries.
Earlier this month, Wine Australia said that exports to Mainland China rose by 15% in value to A$1.15bn in the year to 31 March 2020, despite a 43% drop in March itself as the knock-on effects of the coronavirus lockdown in Chinese cities was felt.
The volume of wine shipped to China for the year dropped by 11% to 130m litres. Globally, Australian wine exports rose by 3% over the 12 months, to hit A$2.87bn.