The Treasurer has hit back at the Canberra-based Chinese Embassy after it accused Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton of engaging in the United States’ “propaganda war” against China.
Josh Frydenberg on Wednesday told ABC Breakfast the comments were “unwanted and unjustified”.
“What is clear is that we maintain a good relationship at the commercial level with China,” he said.
“They’re our largest trading partner and we want that to continue. We obviously have some differences from time to time on the political and strategic levels. But, like with many countries, we make those points clear.
“But ultimately Peter Dutton’s role, the prime minister’s role, my role, and all our colleagues’ roles, is to defend the Australian national interest, and that’s what we’ll continue to do, and we’ll speak up about it as required.”
The Treasurer would not say whether he trusted China.
“Well, it’s not a question of trusting them. It’s a question of can we work with them, and we do, and we do so constructively. And we do so in Australia’s national interest,” he said.
“They’re a country of more than a billion people. They’re in our region, they’re our number-one trading partner. Many Australian livelihoods and many Australian jobs rely on those strong trading relationships with China. We don’t want to move away from that.”
In an interview with Nine last week, Dutton backed the US’ call for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19 — a call that has also been supported by foreign minister Marise Payne and Scott Morrison.
“It would certainly be demanded of us, if Australia was at the epicentre of this virus making its way into society,” he said.
“I think it is incumbent upon China to answer those questions and provide the information, so that people can have clarity about exactly what happened because we don’t want it to be repeated.”
On Tuesday, a spokesperson from the Chinese Embassy accused Dutton of pandering to the US.
“Obviously he must have also received some instructions from Washington requiring him to cooperate with the US in its propaganda war against China,” they told The Global Times.
“It is well known that recently some people in the US, including high-level officials, have been spreading anti-China ‘information virus’. Their aim is to shift blame and deflect attention by smearing China. What they have done is neither moral nor helpful to solve their own problems.”
They argued some Australian politicians have been “keen to parrot what those Americans have asserted and simply follow them in staging political attacks on China”.
“This fully exposes the former’s ignorance and bigotry as well as their lack of independence in serving orders from others, which is pitiful.”