A nation as reliant on China for trade as Australia should be mindful of its circumstances and try to smooth differences. In the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, with economies hard hit by shutdowns, the expectation should be that care is necessary. But Australian politicians have instead taken a confrontational approach and fractures of recent years have widened, leading to Chinese measures that are being perceived as economic retaliation. The recovery from the coronavirus crisis requires countries cooperating on strategies to ensure a return to growth and prosperity; when differences arise, resolution depends on finding common ground through diplomacy. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been anything but diplomatic in his approach towards China. He was quick to take up on a call by Foreign Minister Marise Payne for an independent global inquiry into the origins of the pandemic, doing so after a phone conversation with US President Donald Trump, who had just suspended funding for the World Health Organisation. Australia welcomes growing support for inquiry into pandemic The proposal focused on the nature and timing of the outbreak and was made without consultation with other countries. Far more constructive would have been to seek an investigation to gain understanding and knowledge to prevent a similar pandemic, an issue taken up with China’s support at the recent meeting of the World Health Assembly. Beijing was bound to perceive a political agenda and contend that the United States, Australia’s strategic ally, was behind the push. Soon after, trade disputes over agricultural products came to the fore; the Chinese government went ahead with long-planned anti-dumping action against Australian barley imports by imposing 80.5 per cent tariffs, and the products of four meat processing plants were again banned for failing compliance issues, among them mislabelling. The decision is even more worrying for Canberra given that it comes as Beijing is fulfilling a phase one trade deal with the US to purchase an extra US$32 billion of agricultural imports over the next two years, which could impact Australian farmers Beijing’s moves, coming amid accusations of Chinese interference in Australian politics and the disruption to supply chains caused by Covid-19, have led to calls for less dependence on China. But for many nations, Australia included, that is either impossible or difficult to attain; China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, its share accounting for 35.8 per cent. The Australian government’s border controls to stop the spread of the coronavirus has shut down Chinese tourism and slashed earnings from international students. Both, along with trade, could suffer if officials do not get relations back on track. Doing so is also beneficial for the region and world, Chinese trade, business and investment being crucial for the recovery. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.