AUSTRALIA'S ambassador to Beijing rushed back to Canberra yesterday for meetings about reviving the China relationship, as the glow of Australia's biggest trade deal vanished in China as quickly as it came.
Chinese state media applied a near blackout on reporting what the Rudd Government trumpeted as a $50 billion gas deal that demonstrated the strength of the China economic relationship, and instead called for sanctions against Australian tourism, education and iron ore.
An editorial in the China Daily, the Communist Party's English-language mouthpiece, said Australia's "Sinophobic politicians" were leading the world's "anti-China chorus" and "siding with a terrorist" - a reference to the recent granting of a visa to the exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer.
The deal to supply liquefied natural gas for the next 20 years was signed in Beijing on Tuesday by PetroChina and ExxonMobil, a partner in the Gorgon gas project off the West Australian coast.
Yesterday the Australian ambassador, Geoff Raby, arrived in Canberra for what one official described as "emergency meetings" but a spokesman for the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, described as "routine" meetings with department officials and portfolio ministers. Mr Raby cancelled engagements in Beijing, including media drinks scheduled for tomorrow.
The deal was signed only hours after the Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, claimed the relationship between China and Australia was at its lowest ebb for years. After the deal, the shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, said the Government had ''screwed'' the relationship.
The Government stressed the diplomatic and economic relationships ran parallel to each other. Mr Smith labelled Mr Turnbull's approach to the ''complex, complicated and very important'' relationship as one of ''misjudgment, miscalculation, naivety and simplicity''.
''Any significant bilateral relationship always has challenges,'' Mr Smith said.
The Trade Minister, Simon Crean, called the LNG deal ''a significant statement about our relationship with China''. Mr Rudd said it was a sign of long-term confidence in the economy.
At one stage, six West Australian MPs, led by Wilson Tuckey, embarrassed Mr Turnbull by storming out in protest after their colleague Barry Haase was thrown out for angrily interjecting as the Government claimed some credit for the deal.
A Government spokeswoman told the Herald the $50 billion figure was an estimate based on a formula for calculating gas prices. It is based on the price of oil.
The Gorgon contract is to supply 2.25 million tonnes of gas a year for 20 years.
The Chinese Government has so far postponed a visit to Australia next month by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang - China's likely future premier - and the Australian Government said China cancelled a visit by the Vice Foreign Minister, He Yafei.
China's leaders have also endorsed the arrests of four Rio Tinto employees, including the Australian Stern Hu, while commentators have called for further reprisals against Australian iron ore suppliers.
But Chinese commentators are now calling for broader reprisals against other key Australian export industries.
"Should we not consider removing this country from the list of countries eligible to receive Chinese students and tourists?" said Ye Hailin, an international relations expert at China's most influential think tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, writing in the Xinhua-owned International Herald Leader.
Last week the Global Times, owned by the People's Daily, said 87 per cent of 14,000 respondents believed China should take reprisals through "practical measures" such as boycotting tourism and study in Australia.
"By providing Kadeer a platform for anti-Chinese separatist activities, Canberra chose to side with a terrorist," it thundered.
The Rudd Government "has no one other than itself to blame for the souring of Sino-Australian relations," it said.
Yesterday a Global Times commentator wrote: "China's money sack doesn't have to be bound to an unfriendly kangaroo."