The Chinese and Australian national flags on a celebration event in Sydney, Australia, on Sept. 8, 2019. (File photo/Xinhua)
Scott Morrison, a former Australian national treasurer who took office as prime minister in 2018, has shifted from being a witness to China-Australia cooperation to a leader whose Cabinet has seen a record low in the two nations' ties.
In response to Canberra's hostile policy toward the country that is its largest trade partner, Beijing issued a strong proclamation on Thursday.
China's top economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, issued a rare statement in Chinese and English on Thursday, announcing the suspension of the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue, a key intergovernmental dialogue between the two major Pacific economies.
The relations may become even worse and Australia's economy and people will suffer more losses if the country's government refuses to change its hostility toward China, experts and officials warned.
Back in 2017, Morrison, then Australian treasurer, co-chaired the third and the latest dialogue with He Lifeng, NDRC chairman, in Beijing.
The NDRC said it has decided to "indefinitely suspend all activities" under the framework of the dialogue, which convened in 2014, 2015 and 2017, "based on the current attitude" of the Australian government toward China-Australia cooperation.
The dialogue serves as "a key mechanism" affiliated with regular meetings between China's premier and Australia's prime minister, and the two countries use it to talk about "priorities in economic and trade areas" to foster economic links, according to a Chinese statement about the dialogue in 2017.
However, relations have plummeted drastically in the past few years as Canberra stepped up attacks on China's internal affairs, imposed discriminatory restrictions on Chinese investors and businesses such as tech giant Huawei, and aligned more closely with allies such as Washington in discrediting China on topics including COVID-19.
China's investment in Australia has slumped from A$16.5 billion ($12.79 billion) in 2016 to around A$1 billion last year, while Australia's exports to China remained high, registering A$148 billion last year.
In a recent episode of its hostility, the Australian federal government last month scrapped deals struck by the state of Victoria with China for cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative.
Zhong Feiteng, head of the Department of Great Power Relations Studies of the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said,"It is necessary to issue a warning to Australia" at this moment as "it indeed has been very unfriendly toward China in the past few years".
"Some politicians have failed to prioritize Australia's overall interests when shaping its foreign policies, leading to a major misjudgment (of China)," Zhong said.
The country's deep-seated prejudice and its strong alignment with the United States have undermined its diplomacy's flexibility, Zhong added.
The NDRC's statement on Thursday criticized "some Australian officials" for launching "a series of measures to disrupt the normal exchanges and cooperation between China and Australia out of a Cold War mindset and ideological discrimination".
The statement is "a necessary, justified response that China has to make" and Canberra must shoulder all responsibility for this, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Thursday.
Australia has disregarded multiple official protests made by China and abused the "national security" concept to suppress bilateral cooperation, which "seriously damaged" mutual trust, and it should correct its mistakes and stop politicizing and stigmatizing regular exchanges between countries, Wang said.
Chen Hong, a professor of Asia-Pacific studies and director of the Australian Studies Center at East China Normal University in Shanghai, noted that Canberra's China policy has seen a trajectory of shifting from being fully cooperative to not taking sides in former US president Barack Obama's "pivoting to Asia" strategy, and then the coercive approach alongside the US starting in 2017.
Australia's recent slew of attacks on China "serves US motives of coercing China" with little tangible benefits given by Washington in return, and the Australian public will eventually suffer for the shortsightedness of some politicians, Chen said in a recent interview with Shanghai-based Xinmin Evening News.
"Clinging to ideological bias as well as a Cold War mentality and regarding China as a threat will lead nowhere, nor will recklessly damaging mutual trust and obstructing normal exchanges and cooperation," Chinese Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye said at a webinar with business leaders of both countries last month.
"Teaming up in a small group against China will not work either. Playing the victim game will not change the nature of the problem," he added.