China needs to provide positive suggestions to improve relationship, A-G says

Attorney-General Christian Porter says China needs to come up with "positive changes" instead of complaints to improve the relationship with Australia, after a senior embassy official called for Canberra to undertake "concrete actions" to restart ministerial discussions.

Australia and China's relationship hit a new low this week when Prime Minister Scott Morrison called a press conference to lash a social media post by a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman who used a fabricated image to accuse Australian soldiers of murdering Afghan children.

Wang Xining, deputy head of mission at the Chinese embassy in Australia, says Australia needs to take concrete actions to improve the relationship.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The Australian government-initiated Brereton inquiry released in November found Australian special forces soldiers allegedly committed 39 murders in Afghanistan, but the publicly available version of the report did not directly substantiate allegations two 14-year-olds were killed.

The Twitter post was the latest salvo in a spiralling bilateral relationship that threatens up to $20 billion in Australian exports. China has hit half a dozen Australian industries with trade restrictions, affecting billions of dollars of trade across the seafood, wine and resources sectors.

China's Ministry of Commerce on Friday announced tariffs of up to 200 per cent on Australian wine scheduled to last for four months could be extended to nine months under special circumstances.

Wang Xining, China's deputy head of mission in Australia, on Friday denied there was a co-ordinated campaign targeting Australia's exports, and suggested Mr Morrison should not have responded to the Twitter post in the way he did.

"I think it is unfortunate that this issue evolved in such a way that it has gone astray and now there is a much larger visibility of the Brereton report in China," Mr Wang said.

"More people are attentive to what has happened in Afghanistan. People wondered why a national leader would have such a strong opinion to an artwork done by a normal young artist in China.

"I think … our policy to Australia has been very consistent. We hope that we could work together to get this relationship back to normal track."

Mr Wang said he would like to see "concrete actions from the Australian side that would help to build a good atmosphere for the two countries to work together for the same aim".



"We hope there will be more comprehensive interlocution between diplomatic channels," he said.

He also described a list of 14 grievances provided by his embassy last month as a "media interpretation".

"It has been given a name and an oversimplification which serves to be quite sentimental in the media," Mr Wang said.

"The diplomatic channels are always open."

Asked to respond to the comments at a press conference, Mr Porter said "all relationships are two-way streets".

"It's a relationship that requires improvement, obviously, but there's nothing in particular that Australia would do any differently," he said.

"I think one of the difficulties when you look at that [Mr Wang's] statement is when you look at the list of 14 grievances which the Chinese government has officially provided to describe what they perceive to be the problems with the relationship – they're things that were done that they wish were not done in effect, rather than suggestions for positive changes.

"So this is going to be a matter of ongoing dialogue and patience."

A spokesman for the European Union on Friday said it considered the tweet by China's foreign ministry to be "irresponsible, insensitive, and not at all constructive, particularly given the subject in question".

The spokesman said the EU this week raised the issue with the Chinese government at a number of levels and was "following developments closely and regret the recent deterioration in China-Australian relations".

"Such behaviour and use of information tools to disseminate fabricated images or information cannot be justified," the EU spokesman said.

"We note that the Australian government conducted an investigation into claims of serious misconduct by Australian military personnel in Afghanistan, and is taking action to address its findings."

United States ambassador to Australia, Arthur B. Culvahouse jnr, said the tweet put Coalition forces throughout the world at risk and was "not the way responsible international actors act".

In a speech at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which was attended Mr Wang and Mr Culvahouse, Foreign Minister Marise Payne suggested it was wrong to view developments in the region solely through the prism of "strategic competition" between the US and China.

Seeking to shift the emphasis away from the two major powers, Senator Payne talked up the importance of Australia, India, Japan and Indonesia's ability to shape the region.

"Australia will compete constructively, we'll do so by investing in our regional partnerships, building long-term trust and confidence and by working with our partners," Senator Payne said.

"Both because we share values and interests and because by working together we amplify what we each do separately."

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