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Former secretary of Singapore’s foreign ministry Bilahari Kausikan has said Australia has gone from one “extreme to the other extreme” in its diplomatic ties with China. For years Australia has been accused of being too soft on China – which has radically increased its presence and influence in the indo-pacific region. China has quickly become the largest trading partner of Australia – with sectors such as mining and agriculture booming from Chinese investment.
However, since the coronavirus pandemic began, Australia has spoken out against Beijing in several areas, including foreign policy in Hong Kong and the disputed South China Sea.
Most strikingly, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent inquiry into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic – prompting a furious reaction from China and triggering sanctions against Canberra.
Speaking to national newspaper, The Australian, Mr Kausikan said: “You went from that extreme to the other extreme now, where almost everybody who looks vaguely Chinese may be suspect… have a bit more confidence in yourselves.”
His comments came as Australian foreign minister Marise Payne visited Singapore to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) community.
Mr Kausikan explained the importance for nations to work together, including with China, and insisted the hostile stance of US President Donald Trump towards Beijing was not the way to go.
He said “If I look at all of ASEAN’s dialogue partners, I think we can work most closely with Japan and Australia because their idea of the Indo-Pacific is most similar.
‘You can’t take that detached, hard-line view towards China that the Trump administration has been taking.
“But at the same time, both of you have concerns about China. Serious concerns.”
Diplomatic relations between China and Australia deteriorated after Canberra lead international calls for an independent investigation into the origin of COVID-19.
Coronavirus was first reported to the World Health Organisation by Wuhan officials in December 2019.
China has since imposed huge trade sanctions on Australia, including the suspension of beef imports.
Beijing has also slapped tariffs on 80 percent of barley imports worth £236 million ($439 million).
In addition, Beijing launched an anti-dumping probe into Australian wine imports.
The coronavirus pandemic and sanctions have devastated the Australian economy with GDP shrinking by seven percent in the second financial quarter – the most since records began in 1959.
Unemployment also hit a 22-year high of 7.5 percent in July.
Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly last month, the Australian Prime Minister doubled down on a probe into the origin of coronavirus.
Mr Morrison said: “This virus has inflicted a calamity on our world and its peoples.
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“We must do all we can to understand what happened for no other purpose than to prevent it from happening again.
“There is a clear mandate to identify the zoonotic source of the COVID-19 virus and how it was transmitted to humans.”
More than 100 countries have since sponsored a resolution at the World Health Assembly for an investigation.
An independent panel, headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark is expected to deliver an interim report in November.
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