Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed on Thursday that he would travel to Beijing this year to mark the 50th anniversary of ties with China.
Albanese, who met Chinese Premier Li Qiang at a regional summit in Indonesia, said the two countries had made progress on some trade disputes, but said more needed to be done, on trade and other matters of concern.
The PM, who took office in 2022 at the head of Labor government intent on patching up relations with Australia’s biggest trading partner, will be the first Australian leader to visit since 2016.
“The progress we have made in resuming unimpeded trade is good for both countries and we want to see that progress continue,” Albanese said in his opening comments at the meeting with Li in Jakarta.
Relations between the two countries were virtually frozen for years over various issues including an Australian call in 2020 for an international inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. China responded with a raft of trade reprisals on Australian exports that was described as a ‘shadow trade war’.
But with their interactions warming, China has recently lifted tariffs on Australian barley exports. Australia still wants curbs on wine and lobsters and other exports lifted.
Albanese said that while Australia’s views would not always align with China they had to talk.
“We understand dialogue is absolutely critical,” he said.
Li also welcomed the improvement in relations and said China was ready to work with Australia to resume economic exchanges and to safeguard peace and stability in the region.
“China-Australia relations have maintained a positive momentum of improvement thanks to the concerted efforts of both sides over the past year,” Li said.
China hoped Australia would adopt an “objective and fair” attitude towards Chinese firms investing and operating in Australia.
The good news on bilateral relations came as weak data from the world’s second-largest economy has raised doubts in other markets about its prospects.
Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers on Wednesday said a slowdown in China would put pressure on Australia’s economy.
Chinese customs data on Thursday showed imports from Australia shrank 0.8% in August from a year earlier, slower than the 10.9% contraction in July.
The value of their two-way trade rose to $18.59 billion last month from $18.21 billion in July as trade ties improved.
Earlier today, Albanese launched an economic strategy that seeks to deepen trade with ASEAN nations, which have been so badly neglected to date that direct Australian investment in New Zealand is said to be more than that in all of Southeast Asia.
The Albanese government hired former Macquarie Group CEO Nicholas Moore to consult widely and draw up a plan to boost trade and investment in the region.
The plan has over 70 recommendations on how to boost economic engagement and deepen investment.
Premier Li Qiang said he would see Albanese on his visit to Beijing, while Albanese noted his trip would mark the anniversary of the first visit to communist China by an Australian leader, former PM Gough Whitlam, in 1973.
“I look forward to visiting China later this year to mark the 50th anniversary of Prime Minister Whitlam’s historic visit,” Albanese said in a statement.
Albanese said he raised cases in his talks relating to two detained Australian journalists, Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun, telling reporters Australians “want to see Cheng Lei reunited with her children”.
Albanese will travel next to the Philippines, the first bilateral visit by an Australian leader in 20 years, after a period of renewed tension between the Philippines and China in waters they both claim in the South China Sea.
Australia last month held military exercises near the South China Sea with the Philippines and has said it planned joint navy patrols.
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