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China, Australia hail progress in thawing chilly ties

November 6, 2023

Anthony Albanese, on the first visit to China by an Australian prime minister in seven years, said he had "positive engagement" with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, left, meets with China's President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
Albanese is on a three-day visit to ChinaImage: Lukas Coch/AAP/AP Photo/picture alliance

Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Monday met with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Beijing as the two signaled a push toward improving ties between their countries

The largely symbolic trip comes close to the 50th anniversary of the first trip by an Australian prime minister to the People's Republic of China.

Albanese on Monday stopped by the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, following in the footsteps of the first Australian leader, Gough Whitlam, who visited China five decades ago as ties between the two countries were being established. 

"Since he visited the Temple of Heaven in Beijing much has changed. But what is constant is that engagement between our two countries remains important," Albanese said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong visit the Temple of Heaven
Albanese visited the Temple of Heaven with Australian Foreign Minister Penny WongImage: Lukas Coch/AAP/dpa/picture alliance

What did Xi and Albanese say? 

Albanese highlighted Beijing's lifting of some restrictions on Australian products since his first meeting with Xi in Indonesia last year. 

"The progress we have made in advancing our relationship over that time has been unquestionably very positive," Albanese said in opening remarks to Xi before the media.

With Beijing being Canberra's biggest trading partner, the focus of Albanese's visit has been on trade discussions. This includes easing barriers that have impacted Australian exports by billions of dollars and seeking consensus on how to settle future trade disputes.

Xi said that both sides had resumed exchanges of views and worked out some problems.

"The China-Australia relationship has embarked on the right path of improvement and development," Xi said. "I'm heartened to see that."

After their meeting, Albanese said he walked away from the talks "satisfied that we have positive engagement between Australia and China."

He told reporters that the "conflict in the world was raised," including Russia's war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war in the context of "the need for peace and security in our region."

"I spoke about guardrails and military to military cooperation between the United States and China; that's important," he said.

What is the significance of Albanese's trip to China? 

China and Australia's relations have seen rising tensions since 2017, with Canberra suspecting Chinese intervention in Australian politics. 

The Australian government later barred Chinese tech giant Huawei from 5G contracts. Australia had also called for an inquest into the origins of the coronavirus, angering China.

Beijing then imposed punitive tariffs on a slew of Australian commodities, and tensions continued to escalate over the detention of Australian nationals in China. 

Another stumbling block in Australian-Chinese relations is Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea, as Canberra backs a UN ruling rejecting China's claims.

But since Albanese took power in May 2022, China reversed course. Beijing lifted most of its restrictions that are estimated to have cost Australian exporters up to 20 billion Australian dollars ($13 billion, €12.1 billion) a year for goods such as coal, wine, beef, barley and lobsters. 

fb/rs (AFP, AP, Reuters)