Australia renews calls for inquiry into origins of coronavirus outbreak
Jamie Smyth in Sydney
Australia’s government said on Wednesday it would press ahead with its diplomatic push for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus despite a furious reaction from Beijing, which has accused Canberra of teaming up with Washington to mount “a political campaign” against China.
Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, also flagged the need for the nation’s economy to become more self-sufficient following a warning delivered by Beijing’s ambassador in Canberra this week that Chinese consumers may start to boycott Australian products due to the deteriorating diplomatic relations between the nations.
Mr Morrison told reporters his government would continue to call for an independent inquiry, which was in Australia’s interests and that of the wider international community to ensure lessons could be learned from the Covid-19 outbreak.
He also defended his government’s call for a ban on wildlife ‘wet markets’, saying this was not targeted at China, as these marketplaces selling exotic animals existed in many nations, including Indonesia.
“This is a virus that has taken more than 200,000 lives across the world. It has shut down the global economy. The implications and impacts of this are extraordinary. Now it would seem entirely reasonable and sensible that the world would want to have an independent assessment of how all this occurred, so we can learn the lessons and prevent it from happening again,” said Mr Morrison.
Mr Morrison said Australia would support a European Union motion on wet markets, which is due to be debated at the World Health Organisation next month.
Asked about Australia’s economic dependency on China, the nation’s largest trading partner with A$200bn in two-way annual trade, he said Canberra should seek to have an economy that is as “self sufficient” and “competitive” as possible”.
Diplomatic relations between Canberra and Beijing have deteriorated sharply since 2017 when the conservative government passed a raft of foreign influence legislation in response to a scandal involving donations by a Chinese businessmen to an MP.
These have ratcheted up even further since Mr Morrison issued a call for independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan earlier this month.