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Frydenberg muscles up to China

Australians will not be “muzzled” from expressing their views on China, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has warned. The strong stance follows the release of a leaked document of grievances that Beijing has with Australia.The dossier of 14 disputes handed over to Nine Entertainment Co by the Chinese embassy in Canberra includes: the independent investigation into the…

Australians will not be “muzzled” from expressing their views on China, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has warned.

The strong stance follows the release of a leaked document of grievances that Beijing has with Australia.

The dossier of 14 disputes handed over to Nine Entertainment Co by the Chinese embassy in Canberra includes: the independent investigation into the origins of coronavirus, interfering in China’s affairs with Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, banning Huawei from Australia’s 5G network and blocking foreign investment deals.

The list comes just a day after Mr Frydenberg tried to change tact with China, telling a strategic forum that the government was ready to engage with Beijing in a “respectful, mutually beneficial dialogue”.

Speaking about the list of issues raised by China on Thursday, Mr Frydenberg told 2GB that Australia’s national interests were non-negotiable.

“Whether they are economic security interests or whether they are national security interests,” he said.

“We speak out in terms of human rights and other issues that are important to Australia.”

Mr Frydenberg was also asked if Australian politicians would be forced to stay quiet about issues relating to China amid the increased tension.

“Australians don’t need to zip their mouth – they obviously have constituencies that they advocate on behalf of,” he said.

“You don’t have your voice muzzled, we’re an Australian democracy, we value that and our ability to speak our mind on issues that are important to us and one would hope that international partners and friends would understand that.”

However, he did add a caveat saying “at the same time China is an incredibly important partner for Australia and they’ve represented about one third of our two way trade and more than $250bn”.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Wednesday again reiterated that the root cause of the “deteriorating bilateral ties” was Australia’s repeated wrong acts and remarks on issues concerning China’s interests and major concerns as well as its provocative and confrontational actions.

“Whether in Beijing or in Canberra, the communication channels between the two sides are open and unfettered,” he said.

“But I have to stress that mutual respect and equal treatment is the basis for practical co-operation between any countries.”

Mr Zhao said China “deplores and firmly rejects” the statement released about Australia and Japan signing an in-principle defence pact which included “groundless accusations against China” and grossly interfered in its internal affairs.

Crossbench Senator Rex Patrick has called for an urgent review of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement in the light of China’s behaviour.

“Treasurer Josh Frydenberg held out a tentative olive branch to Beijing,” Senator Patrick said.

“The Chinese Embassy in Canberra replied with an extraordinarily crude political attack, much more reminiscent of Chinese Communist Party propaganda of the 1950s and 1960s than in accord with acceptable diplomatic conduct in the 21st century.

“The Australian Govt must stand firm and enforce our sovereignty … that will require a wide-ranging review and possible suspension of the bilateral Free Trade Agreement.”

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