Western Australia’s government insists there’s nothing untoward about the sudden departure of China’s consul-general amid escalating trade tensions.
Health minister Roger Cook has confirmed Zhihua Dong has returned to Beijing, citing health reasons.
A prominent figure in WA politics since assuming the role last year, Ms Dong made frequent public appearances with state government officials and penned several newspaper opinion articles encouraging tourists to visit China.
Last month, she was invited by billionaire Andrew Forrest to speak at a state government press conference in a move that is believed to have blindsided WA officials.
“My understanding is that Madam Dong is returning to China for health reasons,” Mr Cook told reporters on Thursday.
“I have no reason, and I believe the government has no reason, to believe otherwise.
“Madam Dong has been a wonderful advocate for Western Australia and has been terrific for the relationship between Western Australia and the Republic of China. Obviously we will miss her. We wish her all the very best and a very speedy recovery.”
WA has cultivated close economic ties with China across successive Labor and Liberal governments and is heavily reliant upon Chinese demand for its iron ore.
But the relationship between Canberra and Beijing is badly strained, with China slapping an 80 per cent tariff on barley imports following Australia’s push for a global coronavirus inquiry.
“We look forward to continuing to have a strong relationship with China, because we know that Western Australians and Western Australia’s jobs and economy depend upon a strong trading relationship, not just with China but with all our near neighbours,” Mr Cook said.
“We have a very deep relationship with China, it goes across all parts of industry and all parts of government.”