Australia’s defense minister said that the nation will not be “bullied” after he was asked if a “severe reaction” was expected from China in light of Australia’s Wednesday decision to cancel two trade deals made with the Communist country.
Peter Dutton expressed his support for Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s announcement that scrapped two infrastructure contracts made with the Australian state of Victoria as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to expand trade during a radio interview on the Ray Hadley Morning Show on Wednesday.
“We, like China, exert our sovereign rights and, as a proud country, we’re not going to allow our policy, our principles, our values to be undermined,” Dutton said in the interview. “We aren’t going to be bullied by anyone, we are going to stand up for what we believe in.”
The trade agreements, signed in 2018 and 2019, were canceled because they were found to either be “inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy,” or adverse to Australia’s foreign relations, Payne said Wednesday.
Payne also announced canceled contracts between Australia and Iran made in 2004 and Syria in 1999 for the same reasons.
Dutton said he does not expect a “severe reaction” from the Chinese Communist Party and that he “would be very disappointed if that was the case.”
“We’re worried about cyber attacks and we’re worried, obviously, about state governments that enter into contracts with the Communist Party that are against our interest,” Dutton said.
China issued a harsh reaction on Thursday and expressed its dissatisfaction toward Australia due to the canceled trade deals in a press conference held by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin.
Wang said that Australia’s federal government vetoed the trade agreements “for no good reason, wantonly disrupting normal exchanges and cooperation between the two countries and gravely undermining the bilateral relations and mutual trust.”
“China reserves the right to make further reactions over this matter,” Wang added. “We urge Australia to set aside Cold War mentality and ideological bias.”
He also urged Australia to “change course,” and to avoid worsening relations between the two countries before saying that Australia poisoned the “mutual trust” between the two countries “under the ambiguous and baseless pretexts of ‘inconsistency with Australia’s foreign policy’ and ‘inconsistency with Australia’s national security.'”
The canceled trade deal has added to existing tensions between China and Australia. After Australia called for the investigation into the origins of COVID-19, China blocked the imports of various Australian goods, according to the Associated Press. Meanwhile, China is Australia’s top foreign market.
The BRI is a transcontinental trade policy aimed at developing infrastructure to connect across Asia, Europe and Africa and established by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, its website states. Several countries are part of the initiative.
Newsweek reached out to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade but did not hear back in time for publication.