Beijing: China has hit several Australian industries with economic sanctions as part of punishment over Canberra's criticism of Beijing blocking investigations into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on Huawei Technologies.

A Chinese official openly declared on Wednesday that Beijing has singled out Australia for economic punishment, saying the federal government cannot profit from China while "smearing" it, reported ABC News.

China's government has hit several Australian industries with economic sanctions, imposing hefty tariffs on Australian barley and wine exports while throwing up barriers to several other products including timber, lobster, and coal.

But it has typically not framed these decisions as acts of political retaliation.

For example, Beijing insisted it targeted Australian wine because it was being "dumped" at an unfair price, while other Australian products were blocked at Customs after Chinese officials cited problems with bio-security or labelling, reported ABC News.

Australian officials have long scoffed at these claims, saying Beijing has been laying a thin veneer of plausible deniability on its campaign of economic punishment.

On Tuesday evening Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian dropped this pretence.

When he was asked about a drop in Australian agricultural exports to China, Zhao made it clear Beijing had deliberately targeted Australian goods, reported ABC News.

"Mutual respect is the foundation and safeguard of practical cooperation between countries," he said.

"We will not allow any country to reap benefits from doing business with China while groundlessly accusing and smearing China and undermining China's core interests based on ideology."

Zhao also declared that Australia was being punished because it was trying to attack China on behalf of the United States, and suggested that American farmers were the big winners from Chinese tariffs on Australian goods.

"When a certain country acts like a cat's paw for others, it is the people that pay for misguided government policies," he said.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg did not directly comment on Zhao's remarks but said Australia was dealing with a "more assertive" China.

He also pointed out Australia was still raking in massive amounts of revenue from iron ore exports to China, reported ABC News.

"They have made no secret of the fact that some of our exports are not making their way to China -- our barley, wine, coal," he told reporters in Canberra.

"But what is making its way to China because they need it most is our iron ore, and the price of iron ore is at record highs. And that is providing significant revenue."

The rift between China and Australia has deepened in 2021 after a turbulent 2020 that saw a high-level diplomatic freeze and rapidly mounting disputes over trade, foreign interference, Chinese investment, the COVID-19 outbreak, and human rights abuses in China.

Australia has also taken China to the WTO over its tariffs on barley and wine.

Last month the departing secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson, said China was "dogged by insecurity", and she described its decision to release a list of "14 complaints" about Australia as a "massive own goal", reported ABC News.

Though China has imposed punitive trade restrictions on Australian coal, barley, meat, and wine, it is spending more than ever on Australian imports.