In an unusually blunt statement on the same day that China imposed hefty tariffs on Australian barley exports, China's embassy in Canberra was sharply critical of Australia on an issue that has soured relations between them.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Tuesday stressed that the decision to place tariffs was made fairly, unrelated to issues over the coronavirus.
While many politicians have criticised China's increasing belligerent rhetoric towards Australia, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas blamed the federal government for the tariff hike on the barley sector.
The measures increase suspicions that China is punishing Australia for pushing for an global investigation into the COVID-19 pandemic, and particularly the source of the outbreak.
Zhou also said that while the Chinese government could theoretically attempt to disincentive students from going to study in Australian universities, such a move was unlikely in the short term as it would "require a very obvious and significant government intervention" that would frustrate citizens and have "a serious impact on China's reputation".
Australia is China's biggest barley supplier, exporting nearly 50 per cent of total production, worth about $917 million each year.
"It is within their power to remove these duties at any time during the five-year timeframe and we would hope they do decide to do that", Birmingham said.
"You'd have to expect that the importers would take the message onboard that Australia isn't a friendly country", he said, suggesting Chinese industries would begin diversifying their reliance on Australian goods.
China imported 2.5 million tons of Australian barley last financial year, with the next-biggest importer, Japan, buying less than 800,000 tons. "Not only because it is far more important to us, but because China itself would be paying a high price if they went down that path".
Labor in Victoria has been accused of "selling out" to China and "parroting foreign propaganda" after its criticism of the Morrison government's handling of China in recent weeks.
Now the country's exports of wine, seafood, oatmeal, fruit and dairy are in danger of being targeted if China opts for more escalation, according to people familiar with the matter. Like the USA, it has also banned Huawei Technologies Co. from building its 5G network on security concerns.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday told the assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, that China would support a comprehensive review after the pandemic is brought under control. China also restricted canola imports from Canada after the nation detained a Huawei executive.
"I would have thought the appropriate response from China's ambassador in Australia would have been to welcome those outcomes".
The White House has also accused Chinese authorities of exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to strengthen their regional hold.
Australian officials announced a raft of plans on Wednesday to speed up the resumption of public life to boost the ailing economy amid a diplomatic spat with major trading partner China.
"As China's brewers are forced to bid harder for other sources of barley, Australian barley will find a home with those out bid by China", he said. "If the Australian government - mindful of its economic interests and opposition from the business community - steps back, China would not need to take such steps".