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China’s move to suspend a form of economic dialogue with Australia is being viewed as a response to the Australian government’s cancellation of the Victorian Belt and Road agreements and the newly announced review of the Port of Darwin lease.

But its concrete impact is “zero”, according to trade expert Dr Jeffrey Wilson.

The suspension relates to activities under the China-Australia strategic economic dialogue (SED).

Wilson, the research director at the Perth USAsia Centre at the University of Western Australia, tells me the last time such a meeting was held was in 2017.

Scott Morrison, the then-treasurer, and Steven Ciobo, the then-trade minister, took part in the third SED in Beijing in September 2017. At the time the pair described the SED as “one of our premier bilateral economic meetings with China”.

Wilson says:

They suspended something we haven’t held since 2017. The concrete impact is zero … It’s only been held three times and it’s been in abeyance longer than it’s been in action.

Wilson describes today’s announcement by China’s National Development and Reform Commission – the agency that had partnered with Victoria on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – as a “tit for tat” move.

It’s absolutely retribution for the BRI [agreements being cancelled] and in the last couple of days Peter Dutton ordering yet another review of the Darwin Port.

Wilson contends that after Beijing took action against a range of Australian export sectors last year, it had “run out of ammunition”. He says China is not willing to go after sectors like iron ore because it needs it.

The Australian government had already complained that ministers have been unable to secure talks with their Chinese government counterparts since early last year. The free trade agreement remains in effect.

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Australia-China rift deepens

China has suspended one of the channels for economic talks with Australia as the rift between the countries continues to grow.

Beijing had reserved the right to take further actions after the Morrison government last month cancelled Victoria’s two Belt and Road-related agreements with China. Those cooperation agreements were with China’s National Development and Reform Commission

That commission announced today that it had decided to “indefinitely suspend” all activities under the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue, Reuters reports.

The commission said in a statement:

Recently, some Australian commonwealth government officials launched a series of measures to disrupt the normal exchanges and cooperation between China and Australia out of Cold War mindset and ideological discrimination.

Comment on the significance of the step is being sought from the Australian government, which has previously complained that ministers have been unable to secure talks with their Chinese government counterparts since early last year.

Australian and Chinese flags

China today suspended one of the channels for economic talks with Australia. Photograph: Pool/Getty Images

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