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Australia and China hold talks to mend bilateral ties

June 17, 2024

Security issues and jailed Australian writer Yang Hengjun were on the agenda during "candid dialogue" between Anthony Albanese and Li Qiang in Canberra.

Albanese and Li shake hands at their meeting in Canberra
The meeting was marked by protesters and supporters outside.Image: Mick Tsikas/AP Photo/picture alliance

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Chinese Premier Li Qiang met in Canberra on Monday, to discuss trade, security and a jailed Australian writer.

Li is on a four-day visit to the country. This was the first visit to Australia by a Chinese premier in seven years. 

Albanese welcomed the "candid dialogue" with China's second-most senior official, adding "For Australia, we consistently advocate the importance of a region and world that is peaceful, stable and prosperous, where countries respect sovereignty and abide by international laws."

The meeting marks a thawing of relations between the two countries after Beijing blocked $20 billion (€18.7 billion) of Australian exports amid friction with Albanese's conservative predecessors.

Australia-China trade relations

Li told reporters that it was a "candid, in-depth and fruitful meeting" that "reached a lot of consensus."

He said the two countries plan to expand cooperation in energy and mining, and China would include Australia in its visa waiver program. He also said China would loan Australia two giant pandas to replace the popular pair Wang Wang and Fu Ni at Adelaide Zoo.

"We both stressed the importance of maintaining communication and coordination to jointly safeguard peace and prosperity in the region and beyond," he said.

"China remains overwhelmingly Australia's largest trading partner. Australian farmers, miners and exporters are already seeing the benefits of the removal of trade impediments — benefits that flow to our economy," Albanese told reporters.

The value of trade between Australia and China reached Aus$327 billion (US$216 billion) last year as Beijing began to lift its trading blocks.

Mining is one of the key areas of interest for resource-rich Australia and resource-hungry China. The former is the biggest supplier of iron ore to the latter which itself has major investments in Australian mining projects.

Human rights, geopolitical tensions, Ukraine and the Pacific

The Australian prime minister raised the question of human rights, specifically the case of Chinese-born Australian writer Yang Hengjun, whose suspended death sentence was upheld by a Beijing court. He also told reporters he had brought up the situation in Ukraine and the Pacific. 

Albanese told Li that the two countries should work to "promote a regional balance where no country dominates and no country is dominated." 

Outside the parliament house in Canberra where the leaders met, protesters and supporters had gathered amid heavy police presence. 

Demonstrators included Tibetan, Uyghur, Hong Kong and Falun Gong protesters, as well as pro-Beijing supporters.

"Australia should be cautious about what it is doing — don't sacrifice human rights for short-term economic business," Tenzin Wougyal, a Tibetan protester told Reuters news agency.

Albanese had previously said he would raise the topic of clashes in the South China Sea and Yellow Sea after an incident last month — called a dangerous encounter by Australian authorities — when a Chinese airforce jet dropped flares near an Australian defense helicopter.

tg/ab (AFP, AP, Reuters)