1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

China's Li urges dispute resolution on Australia trip

June 15, 2024

Chinese Premier Li Qiang has called for more bilateral cooperation as he kicks off an Australia visit. Ties between China and Australia were strained under the previous conservative government in Canberra.

 People standing behind a banner welcoming Li to Australia
Li was greeted by people waving Chinese and Australian national flagsImage: Asanka Ratnayake/POOL/AFP/Getty Images

China's second most powerful man, Premier Li Qiang, called on Saturday for "shelving differences" with Australia following several years of strained ties over a number of issues.

Li arrived in the southern city of Adelaide at the start of a four-day visit that is expected to focus on increased economic cooperation, as China lifts punitive trade sanctions on several major Australian exports in an ongoing reset of relations between Beijing and Canberra.

The visit — the first by a Chinese premier in seven years — is expected to set the scene for President Xi Jinping to make his first journey to Australia in around a decade.

 China's Premier Li Qiang (R) greets Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong (C), South Australia's Premier Peter Malinauskas (2nd L) and other officials at Adelaide Airport in Adelaide
Li (R) was greeted by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong (C) and other officialsImage: Asanka Ratnayake/POOL/AFP/Getty Images

What did Li say?

"History has proven that mutual respect, seeking common ground while shelving differences and mutually beneficial cooperation are the valuable experience in growing China-Australia relations, and must be carried forward," he said in a statement.

"A more mature, stable and fruitful comprehensive strategic partnership will be a treasure shared by the people of both countries," the statement added.

Li's visit, which will include a trip to Adelaide Zoo to check in on two China-born giant pandas who have lived there since 2009, comes as China has gradually removed its trade sanctions on Australian wine, timber, barley and beef exports.

Live lobsters are expected to be removed soon as the last item on the sanctions list.

The sanctions, imposed in 2020 during bilateral diplomatic tensions with the previous conservative government, cost Australian exporters an estimated AU$20 billion (€12.13 billion, $13 billion) a year.

Li also intends to visit the Chinese-controlled processing plant of Tianqi Lithium Energy Australia in Western Australia, which produces lithium hydroxide for use in the batteries of electric vehicles.

Canberra, like Washington, has expressed concern at China's dominance in critical minerals like lithium, which are considered vital for the global shift to renewables.

Why was Australia previously at loggerheads with China?

Australia's previous government angered Beijing with a number of moves.

Among other things, it introduced legislation banning covert foreign interference in Australian politics, which was mainly aimed at China.

It also excluded Chinese-owned telecommunications giant Huawei from rolling out the national 5G network amid fears of compromising security.

Canberra also called for an independent investigation into the causes of and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, which had its origins in China.

Relations between the two countries have improved since Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's government took power in 2022.

However, an annual poll by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute foreign policy think tank released in June found that 53% of Australian respondents still see China as more of a security threat than an economic partner.

In one reflection of those security tensions, Albanese has said he will discuss with Li recent clashes between the two countries' militaries in the South China Sea and Yellow Sea.

Australia has argued that the incident, in which a Chinese fighter jet allegedly released flares in the flight path of an Australian navy helicopter, endangered Australian personnel.

tj/ab (Reuters, AP)