Australia betrayed China with calls for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, a Beijing envoy said Wednesday, likening the moves to Brutus plotting against Julius Caesar.
Wang Xining, the Chinese embassy's deputy head of mission, made the remarks in a rare public address as he spoke of the "indignation, anger and frustration" felt by China at Australia's push for a global inquiry.
"It is approximately identical to Julius Caesar in his final days when he saw Brutus approaching him," Wang said.
The virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, and has gone on to kill more than 800,000 people around the world.
China insists the source of the virus remains unknown, a position Wang repeated on Wednesday.
But China reacted with fury when Australia led calls in April for the independent probe into the virus.
Beijing subsequently imposed tariffs on Australian goods and warned Chinese tourists and students against visiting the country, citing alleged racial harassment against Asians.
Expanding on Beijing's reaction, Wang said Australia had "singled out" China in its call for an inquiry and had not given any notice of its plans.
"All of a sudden, they (the world) heard this shocking news of a proposal coming from Australia, which is supposed to be a good friend of China," he said.
Wang said Australia had "hurt the feelings" of China's 1.4 billion people with its actions.
Nevertheless, Wang said, subsequent China's trade action against Australia's lucrative beef, wine and barley industries was not a retaliation, but rather due to "technical issues".
The two countries were already at loggerheads when Canberra called for the virus probe.
Beijing was riled by Australia's anti-dumping levies on its aluminium and steel, as well as by Canberra's decision to ban controversial telecoms giant Huawei from building Australia's 5G network.
Canberra, meanwhile, had protested China's arrest of Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun on spying allegations.
Australia has also issued repeated warnings about Chinese interference in the country, and formally rejected Beijing's territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Dave Sharma, an Australian ambassador-turned-lawmaker, expressed incredulity at Wang's remarks.
"Hurt feelings??" he tweeted. "At latest count, COVID-19 has killed 800,000 people worldwide and caused economic disruption on a scale not seen since the Great Depression."
"If getting to the bottom of what caused this generates some 'hurt feelings', I think that is the least of our concerns."
In May, World Health Organization member states -- including China and Australia -- backed a European Union resolution for an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of the international response to the pandemic.