Australia is the pioneer of a global anti-China campaign, a high-level Chinese embassy delegation has claimed, as relations between the two countries fall to among the worst in the developed world.
Accusing Prime Minister Scott Morrison of showing "the US view through his mouth," the delegation said Mr Morrison's criticism of China from the US had not helped a relationship frozen by "groundless" allegations of foreign interference in Australian politics.
Mr Morrison used a speech to the Chicago Institute for Global Affairs on Monday to echo Washington's concerns that China should be treated as a "newly developed economy" in trade and environment policy, as it becomes the world's second-largest economy and a significant financial centre, amid an escalating $US300 billion trade war with the United States.
"The timing and place where Morrison said it, maybe it is not Morrison's view, it is President Trump's view," said Wang Yiwei, a Remnin University professor of international relations and Communist Party member at the Chinese embassy in Canberra.
The criticism echoes that of Labor leader Anthony Albanese who said on Tuesday Mr Morrison should engage with China without using "a loud hailer from the United States" so "there was no confusion that the Prime Minister was advancing Australia's national interest".
In a bid to balance criticism of China on Tuesday night, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham accused the US of "breaking away from negotiating norms, increasingly applying unilateral tariff measures and threatening to destroy dispute resolution mechanisms makes the WTO seem powerless".
East China University Australia studies director Chen Hong said despite some improvements under Mr Morrison, Australian-Chinese relations had entered a freeze "which in Chinese means a very cold period" and that Australia had played a "pioneering role in an anti-China campaign".
"The two-way exchanges have been going very well, until 2017 when Australia launched this attack on China," he said. "If other countries follow suit that is going to be recognised as extremely unfriendly."
Dr Chen said the increased government hostility was sparked by media reports over increasing Chinese interference in Australian politics. Several allegations revealed in those reports are now before the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. The tension culminated in 2018, when former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull banned Chinese telco giant Huawei from participating in Australia's 5G network over national security concerns.
"I think the responsibility is totally on the Australian side," Dr Chen said. "China always promotes friendship."
None of the three representatives hosted by the embassy could name a single country outside the US with which China had worse relations. They cited the UK, Germany, France and New Zealand as governments that had better managed dialogues with China.
Mr Morrison has not visited the country once since he became Prime Minister. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has visited Beijing up to a dozen times in her 15 years in power.
China's President Xi Jinping is expected to meet briefly with Mr Morrison on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Chile in November, but Professor Wang said an invitation to China remains out of the question without Australia offering a compromise on Huawei and other tensions.
"The thing about any political visit is to do something," said Professor Wang. "Solve the problem first and then visit."
Professor Wang said the government was "not so eager to defend Huawei because they are a private company but because it is a symbol of China," while accusing the Australian government of being hypocritical. "One time you say you should follow market principles, another time you don't."
The visiting scholars "vehemently rejected" Mr Morrison's claims that China should be treated as a developed nation, arguing on life expectancy, income and inequality, China remained well behind the developed world and would not catch up until 2050.
They said China would continue to see itself as a campaigner for other developing nations on trade and the environment as a "super developing country".
"Australia has been shirking its responsibility for climate change and shifting responsibility to China," said Dr Chen.
"There is still a long way for China to go. China does not aspire to become a superpower or a developed country. It is just a title, it actually needs to achieve the development."
Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies director Chen Xiaochen, said Shanghai, where life expectancy reaches 82, is "probably the only developed city" in China while rural areas remain far behind.
He said the "rich club" at the World Trade Organisation could change the criteria for developed countries but that would mean renegotiating trade deals with dozens of nations.
The delegation said China would continue to use its status as a developing nation in the Pacific where it has urged other countries to join Kiribati and the Solomon Islands in rejecting Taiwan and embracing its One-China policy.
"In Fiji, they think China respects them more than you respect them," Professor Wang said.
- SMH/The Age