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Asia Today: China warns Australia probe may set off backlash

BANGKOK (AP) — China’s ambassador reportedly is warning the Australian government its pursuit of a coronavirus inquiry could set off a boycott by Chinese consumers, who may no longer travel and study in Australia or buy major exports including beef and wine.

Ambassador Cheng Jingye told The Australian Financial Review in an interview published on Monday that Australia’s push for an inquiry was “dangerous” and predicted it would fail to gain traction.

“Resorting to suspicion, recrimination or division at such a critical time could only undermine global efforts to fight against this pandemic,” Cheng said.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said an independent inquiry was in the interests of Australia and the world.

“We’ve seen 3 million people infected and over 200,000 lives lost so of course there has to be an independent review,” Hunt told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“To have a major global, cataclysmic event and not to review it would seem very odd and very strange and so ultimately we have to take the steps that are in not just the interests of Australia, but in the interests of common humanity,” Hunt added.

The Australian government has called for an inquiry into the respiratory virus and for changes to the World Health Organization due to its alleged shortcomings in handling the pandemic.

Education is Australia’s third-largest export industry and China is the largest source of students studying in Australia. China is also Australia’s largest trading partner.

The Chinese Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the newspaper article.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— NEW ZEALAND: New Zealand reported five new coronavirus cases as the nation gets ready to ease its strict lockdown from midnight. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there hasn’t been widespread community transmission of the virus and the country has so far managed to avoid the worst scenarios for an outbreak. She said it would continue to hunt down the last few cases. From midnight, certain businesses like construction can reopen but with social distancing. Ardern said the nation was opening up the economy but not people’s social lives.

— BANK OF JAPAN'S MOVES: Japan’s central bank is making it easier for cash-strapped companies to get funding and expanding collateral for debt in response to the growing economic damage from the pandemic. The decisions by the Bank of Japan to ease monetary policy include expanding the purchase of commercial papers and corporate bonds and removing the ceiling amount for buying government bonds. The central bank said the economy was facing serious difficulty because of the virus outbreak.

— HUBEI HAS NO VIRUS PATIENTS: China reported just three new virus cases and, for the 12th day in a row, no new deaths. Hospitals are treating 723 people and just under 1,000 people are being isolated and monitored as suspected cases or not showing symptoms. The capital Beijing added one postmortem death to its count, raising China’s overall death toll to 4,633 among 82,830 cases. The health commission in Hubei province said it has no virus patients in hospitals after the last 12 patients were released. Hubei accounts for the bulk of China’s cases and deaths, and its healthcare system was overwhelmed by thousands of patients when its outbreak peaked in January and February.

— SOUTH KOREA MAY REOPEN SCHOOLS: South Korea reported 10 fresh cases of the coronavirus as officials mull reopening schools. The figures released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought the national totals to 10,738 cases and 243 deaths. Using an active test-and-quarantine program, South Korea has managed to slow its outbreak without lockdowns or business bans. But schools remain shut while providing children remote learning. Prime Minster Chung Sye-kyun instructed education officials to prepare hygiene and social distancing measures so the government could announce a timeline for reopening schools no later than early May.

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