Diplomatic tensions between Australia and China can be reignited with an extraordinary threat by a Coalition supporter to call on the Chinese ambassador to answer questions from the parliamentary committee.
While attempts to force ambassadors to appear at the hearing in Canberra almost certainly fail because of diplomatic immunity, the push stopped the pause in public debate between the two governments over responses to Covid-19.
Queensland Coalition MP George Christensen, who has a record of threatening to cross, issued the latest threat in his capacity as chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Growth in Trade and Investment.
Committee already carry out an investigation to “is there a need to diversify the Australian trade market and Australia’s level of dependence on foreign investment” – but Christensen wants to sharpen the focus on China and has raised the prospect of calling on China’s ambassador, Cheng Jingye, to provide evidence.
Christensen does not appear to have sought support from senior members of the government such as trade minister, Simon Birmingham, for the plan and it is unclear whether all committees have held a vote to support the move.
Responding to these developments, Birmingham stressed it must be seen in the context of political debate.
“We live in a strong democracy where different views can be heard,” the minister said in a statement, adding the government believes investment and exports are important for the work of Australians.
According to article 31 of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, diplomatic agents “are not obliged to provide evidence as witnesses”. While diplomatic immunity can be ignored by China, this is considered highly unlikely.
Christensen wanted Cheng to appear before the committee as early as August, according to a report in Sunday Mail News Corp, who also reports on notifications to appear can be sent to the ambassador “as early as tomorrow”.
“I want to know why the ambassador felt the need to mention the possibility of a trade boycott in response to Australia’s request for an international inquiry into the origin of the Wuhan coronavirus,” MP told the Sunday Mail.
He also created a “Chinese Request” website with a welcome message that said: “We must defend Australia’s economic sovereignty and independence, and resist threats from the Chinese Communists.”
The governments of China and Australia are entangled in a war of words that fell apart last month for the proposed international inquiry to Covid-19 and Beijing’s apparent threat to retaliate economically.
At the height of the tension, the Chinese embassy issued a detailed call from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and in an attempt to embarrass the Morrison government, claiming that the department secretary had admitted that it was not the time to begin the review. now and Australia has no proposal details “.
Cheng, the ambassador, had warned earlier that a consumer boycott was possible when he argued that Australia’s insistence on an international inquiry was part of a US-backed “political campaign against China.”
In an interview with the Australian Financial Review published on April 26, Cheng said tourists and Chinese students might rethink their plans to visit in the future “if the atmosphere changes from bad to worse”, while consumers may also decide not to buy wine Australia and beef.
Scott Morrison maintained his call for an “entirely reasonable and reasonable” investigation and public disputes appear to have subsided since late April. Meanwhile Australia has downplay the theory promoted by US political leaders that the virus might have started in a laboratory in Wuhan.
In recent days, the prime minister has underlined the need for an investigation to be seen as having “honest intentions and honest motives”.
On Sunday, the health minister, Greg Hunt, said the government would support a motion drafted by the European Union at the upcoming World Health Assembly which he said included “independent investigations, regulatory work on the wet market and also the potential of independent inspection forces”.
Hunt said the government did not agree with the World Health Organization regarding Australia’s decision on February 1 to close the border with visitors from China in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
“We believe that we made not only the right decision but also one of the most important decisions made by the Australian government in decades,” Hunt told Sky News.
The Australian Guardian has contacted Christensen and the Chinese embassy to comment.
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