Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call for big countries not to bully the weak has exposed a “disconnect” between China’s behaviour and rhetoric, a top Australian minister said Wednesday.

Still smarting from punitive Chinese sanctions on a range of Australian products and a rumbling war of words between Beijing and Canberra, treasurer Josh Frydenberg took issue with the communist leader’s altruistic-sounding Davos speech.

Special Address by Xi Jinping at the World Economic Forum. Photo: World Economic Forum, via Flickr.

Xi told the forum — which this year is being held entirely online — that relations between countries should be governed by rules and institutions, not dictated by might.

“The strong should not bully the weak. Decisions should not be made by simply showing off strong muscles or waving a big fist,” Xi said in remarks seemingly courting favour with smaller nations and offering a veiled criticism of the United States.

But Frydenberg told reporters Wednesday that Xi’s comments did not tally with China’s acts of economic coercion toward Australia.

“Well, we agree with that sentiment that big nations should not bully small ones but there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the words and the actions,” he said.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. File photo: Josh Frydenberg, via Twitter.

“The reality is, Australia has been on the receiving end of some pretty harsh actions when it comes to our trade.” 

Relations between Canberra and Beijing were in free-fall throughout last year, with China hitting out at a list of issues including Australia’s call for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19 and a ban on Huawei’s participation in the nation’s 5G network.

China hit more than a dozen Australian sectors with import levies, with the barley and wine industries particularly affected. Exporters stand to lose as much as US$2-4 billion worth of sales.

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