China said Thursday that it has suspended some timber imports from Australia, as tensions soar between the two countries on a range of issues including trade, human rights and the coronavirus.
Beijing – Australia's biggest trade partner – has threatened economic blowback since Canberra called for an inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic, and has already suspended beef imports and launched a probe into the alleged dumping of Australian wines.
On Thursday, the foreign ministry confirmed customs officials had suspended imports of timber from the Australian state of Victoria from Wednesday "to prevent the risks of plant disease".
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press briefing Thursday that it was a legal not political decision, due to "hazardous insects" detected in a recent timber shipment from the state.
However, he went on to suggest that Australia's outspoken stance on Chinese human rights issues was the "root cause" of current trade tensions and accused Canberra of "violating the basic norms of international relations" with comments about rights in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan.
"We hope Australia can... create favorable conditions for mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation in all fields," Wang said.
Wang added that China had also suspended timber imports from Queensland state from Oct. 31 for the same reason.
Australian officials have demanded clarity on rumors of import bans on Australian coal, wine, beef, timber and barley.
Trade minister Simon Birmingham said last week that he had raised concerns with Chinese officials over several trade issues, including the increased testing of live rock lobsters that "came out of the blue" and the rumored coal embargo – a business worth around US$10 billion a year.