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Australia to 'work constructively' with China, PM says

November 5, 2023

Australian PM Anthony Albanese's visit to China focuses on trade discussions, including easing barriers that have impacted Australian exports by billions of dollars. He also intends to bring up human rights concerns.

Anthony Albanese
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is the first Australian leader to visit China in seven yearsImage: Lukas Coch/AA/dpa/picture alliance

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Sunday became the first Australian leader to visit China in seven years, bringing with him a message of constructive engagement.

Addressing the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, Albanese emphasized the mutual benefits of a cooperative relationship and pledged to maintain constructive engagement with China to mend strained relations.

"Constructive economic engagement between countries helps to build relationships...that is why the government that I lead will continue to work constructively with China," Albanese said.

According to Albanese his approach to the relationship with China has been "patient, deliberate and measured," intending to ensure the interests of both countries are addressed "because that is the way that good diplomacy works."

Trade discussions at the forefront

Albanese's trip focuses on trade discussions, including easing barriers that have impacted Australian exports by billions of dollars and seeking consensus on how to settle future trade disputes.

The visit coincides with a diplomatic thaw in relations, as most trade blocks from a 2020 dispute have been lifted, and it signals Australia's intention to promote trade and address regional issues, including tensions in the South China Sea.

China is Australia's largest export market, particularly for iron ore, natural gas and critical minerals such as lithium.

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"The fact that it is the first visit in seven years to our major trading partner is a very positive step, and I look forward to constructive discussions and dialogue with the president and the premier during my visit to Shanghai and Beijing," Albanese said.

China's Foreign Ministry has said that Albanese meeting with Chinese leaders would address "bilateral issues as well as on international and regional issues of common concern."

Human rights concerns to be brought up

Albanese will also meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, where he intends to address human rights concerns, specifically the detention of Australian nationals, and advocate for transparent legal processes.

The detention of 58-year-old Yang Hengjun without conviction for almost five years will be one of the topics raised with Xi when they meet on Monday.

Yang is being held in a Beijing detention center awaiting the verdict of a 2021 closed-door trial on espionage charges. 

Earlier, Albanese had also brought up the case of detained Australian journalist Cheng Lei who was freed and deported last month. Her release was interpreted as a Chinese concession ahead of Albanese's visit.

ss/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)