China Lashes out at Australia, Other G7 Nations for 'Creating Conflicts' Amid COVID Pandemic

China lashed out at Australia and other Group of Seven (G-7) nations for "creating conflicts" during the COVID-19 pandemic ahead of a G-7 leaders' meeting that begins Friday in the U.K.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison will attend the summit amid his country's trade dispute with China that he is seeking support for during the meeting, the Associated Press reported. Morrison said his country would be "working with others to buttress the role of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and to modernize its rulebook where necessary," during a speech Wednesday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin fired at Australia and the G-7 nations and said they "should do more to promote international cooperation in fighting the epidemic, advance world economic recovery and help developing countries accelerate their development, instead of creating conflicts and differences in the international community."

Morrison said the WTO should punish "bad behavior when it occurs," as the Australian government said in December that it would ask the WTO to become involved in its trade conflict with China. The G-7 nations consist of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and Japan.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin takes a question at the Foreign Ministry briefing in Beijing on November 9, 2020. Wang lashed out at Australia and the G-7 nations for "creating conflicts" amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

"In my discussions with many leaders, I've taken great encouragement from the support shown for Australia's preparedness to withstand economic coercion in recent times," Morrison said in a speech in the Australian west coast city of Perth before leaving for the G-7 meeting in Cornwall.

The Australian government previously announced it would ask the WTO to intervene in its dispute with China over barley and expects other nations to become involved in the case.

China effectively ended imports of Australian barley in May 2020 by putting tariffs of more than 80% on the grain, accusing Australia of breaching WTO rules by subsidizing barley production and selling it in China at below production cost.

Trade in Australian seafood, wood, beef, wine and coal has also been disrupted since Australia angered China by requesting an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Geneva-based WTO, which makes rules governing international trade, is facing calls for restructuring and reform as it struggles to forge a long-awaited world trade pact.

"A well-functioning WTO that sets clear rules, arbitrates disputes objectively and efficiently penalizes bad behavior when it occurs. This can be one of the most powerful tools the international community has to counter economic coercion," Morrison said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month the United States will not leave Australia alone to face coercion from China and that such behavior toward U.S. allies will hamper improvement in relations between Washington and Beijing.

Morrison said in his speech that the most practical way to address economic coercion would be to restore the WTO's binding dispute settlement system.

"Where there are no consequences for coercive behavior, there is little incentive for restraint," he said.

The G-7 meeting "provides an opportunity to point a way forward" at a WTO ministerial conference on trade reforms in November, he said.