SYDNEY – Australia and China have made progress in returning to “unimpeded trade” but more progress is needed, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Thursday as he met Chinese Premier Li Qiang at a regional summit in Indonesia.
Mr Albanese, who took office in 2022 as the head of government intent on patching up relations with Australia’s biggest trading partner, also said that he would visit China in 2023, the first by an Australian leader since 2016, and a confirmation of a significant step in stabilising ties.
“The progress we have made in resuming unimpeded trade is good for both countries, and we want to see that progress continue,” Mr Albanese said in his opening comments at the meeting in Jakarta.
Relations between the two countries were virtually frozen for years over various issues, including a call from Australia for an international inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. China responded with a raft of trade reprisals against Australian exports.
But with their interactions warming, China has recently lifted tariffs on Australian barley exports. Australia still wants curbs on wine, lobsters and other exports lifted.
Mr Albanese said that while Australia’s views would not always align with China’s, they had to talk.
“We understand dialogue is absolutely critical,” he said.
Mr 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,” Mr 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 per cent in August from a year earlier, slower than the 10.9 per cent contraction in July.
The value of their two-way trade rose to US$18.59 billion (S$25.38 billion) in August, from $18.21 billion in July, as trade ties improved.
Mr Li also said he would meet Mr Albanese on his visit to China, while the Australian prime minister referred to the anniversary of the first visit to communist China by an Australian leader, then prime minister 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,” Mr Albanese said in a statement.
Mr Albanese said he raised human rights cases in his talks, including those of two detained Australian journalists, Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun. He told reporters he had said Australians “want to see Cheng Lei reunited with her children”.
Mr Albanese will travel next to the Philippines, the first 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 in August held military exercises near the South China Sea with the Philippines and had said the two countries planned joint navy patrols. REUTERS
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