Chinese and Australian ministers met on Wednesday in the first formal talks between the countries in four years signalling a significant thawing in the frosty relationship between the nations.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong met her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in Beijing, following messages between their leaders, as the major trading partners seek to stabilise diplomatic relations.
Ties between Australia and its top trading partner have deteriorated in recent years, with China imposing sanctions on Australian exports after Canberra called for an international inquiry into the origins of the novel coronavirus.
Wong’s visit is the first by an Australian minister since 2019 and the first formal talks in Beijing since 2018.
“We can grow our bilateral relationship and uphold both our national interests if both countries navigate our differences wisely,” she said at the beginning of the meeting.
They discussed trade blockages, human rights, two detained Australians, as well as global rules and norms that underpin security and prosperity, Wong told a news conference after the talks.
“We have different views about how our political system should operate and we have different interests but we need to seek to manage those differences,” she said.
Wong said she had suggested a “more structured dialogue” including meetings of trade and economic ministers.
A joint outcomes statement released by Australia said the two sides agreed to “commence or restart dialogue” on trade and economic issues, climate change, defence and regional and international issues.
“We should enhance understanding through contact and find solutions acceptable to each other through consultation,” Wang Yi told Wong.
The two nations’ prime ministers used to hold annual meetings under a “comprehensive strategic partnership”, before the diplomatic dispute halted even phone calls between ministers.
Albanese’s China Promise
Wang told his counterpart that China and Australia had no fundamental conflicts of interest and they should use the 50th anniversary of ties to reorganise and restart relations, China’s foreign ministry said.
“China and Australia have no historical grievances and no fundamental conflicts of interest, and should and can become partners in mutual need,” Wang said during their meeting, according to the ministry’s statement.
Their meeting followed a message from China’s President Xi Jinping earlier in the day to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promising China would work to promote a comprehensive strategic partnership, state media reported. Albanese thanked Xi for a telegram commemorating the 50th anniversary of ties.
“It is important that we deliver better relations with our major trading partner in the future,” Albanese told a news conference in Sydney.
A meeting between Albanese and Xi on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Indonesia last month signalled a thaw in ties, although China’s trade sanctions estimated to be worth A$20 billion remain in place.
Wong said she had raised the cases of two Australians detained in Beijing, broadcaster Cheng Lei and writer Yang Henjun, both awaiting verdicts in closed-door national security trials, with Australia advocating for them to have consular access, and to be “reunited with their families as soon as possible”.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara