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Beijing: China’s top leaders have hailed a new starting point in ties with Australia during talks with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Beijing, putting an end to years of diplomatic isolation that saw all ministerial contact cut off between Australia and its largest trading partner.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with China’s President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing just after 5pm on Monday night, arguing that better ties with China would deliver stronger economic growth for both nations.
Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese meets with China’s President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday.Credit: AAP
Years of estrangement over human rights, national security and a campaign of economic coercion hit Australian businesses with $20 billion in trade strikes following the border closures at the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020.
Xi told Albanese the two countries had worked out some “problems” in recent times and said he wanted to continue a comprehensive strategic partnership with Australia – a key phrase indicating Chinese hopes for greater agreement.
“After taking office, you’ve been working to stabilise and improve relations with China. This visit shows the great importance you attach to relations with China,” Xi said.
“I’m heartened to see that.
“A healthy and stable China Australia relationship serves the common interests of our two countries and two peoples. It also meets the common expectation of countries in our region. It is important that we keep moving forward with a comprehensive strategic partnership between our two countries.”
Albanese told Xi that over time, the progress in the relationship had been “unquestionably very positive” for both countries.
“I believe that we can all benefit from a greater understanding of China,” he said. “Where differences arise it is important that we have communication. From communication comes understanding.”
Albanese said the leaders agreed that they would take the relationship forward after a tumultuous four years of hostility: “We have restarted a range of dialogues and the tempo of bilateral visits is increasing.”
The talks between Xi and Albanese followed a highly sensitive time in relations between the two governments.
China has fiercely opposed Australia’s AUKUS pact on nuclear-powered submarines with the United States and the United Kingdom, while trying to exert its influence in the South Pacific and claiming disputed territory in the South China Sea.
In broader talks to manage strategic differences in the region, Xi will meet US President Joe Biden at a regional summit in San Francisco next week.
The prime minister’s discussions with Xi were delayed on Monday night by a flurry of meetings in the Great Hall of the People, including talks between Xi and Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz.
On Monday, Albanese also met the third most powerful leader in China, Zhao Leji, the chairman of the National People’s Congress for talks before the meeting with the president.
Chairman of the National People’s Congress Zhao Leji greets Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday. Credit: AAP
In a very positive message, Zhao called the China visit a “new start” in the relationship.
“Now we’re at a new starting point,” he told the prime minister.
“China is ready to work with Australia to improve, maintain and develop our relations, to enhance mutual trust, strengthen exchanges, expand cooperation, consolidate the friendship, so as to deliver greater benefits to our two countries and peoples.”
Earlier, Foreign Minister Penny Wong met her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, over a private lunch before she joined the meeting with Albanese and Xi.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong visited the Temple of Heaven in Beijing on Monday, touring the temple grounds with the Chinese ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian.Credit: AAP
Albanese warned of “strategic competition” from the rise of China but emphasised the gains for Australia in the economic relationship, a key agenda in his talks with the country’s top three leaders this week.
“I’m convinced that we’re building a relationship that’s constructive – one where we’re able to talk with each other directly,” he said of his dealings with Xi.
Albanese is the first Australian prime minister to meet Xi in the Chinese capital since 2016 and arrived two weeks after a visit to the United States, where President Joe Biden said “trust but verify” should be the approach to dealing with China.
Asked twice whether he trusted Xi, the prime minister indicated the Chinese president had been a man of his word in their dealings to date, but was reluctant to use the term.
“We have different political systems, but the engagement that I’ve had with China, with President Xi, have been positive. They have been constructive,” he said.
“He has never said anything to me that has not been done, and that’s a positive way that you have to start off dealing with people. We recognise as well that we come with different political systems, very different values arising from that, and different histories.
“But we deal with each other at face value.”
The prime minister retraced the steps of his Labor predecessor Gough Whitlam on Monday morning, visiting the Temple of Heaven in Beijing as the former Labor leader did in 1973 and emphasising the historic return of an Australian leader to the Chinese capital.
Flanked by Wong, the prime minister toured the temple grounds with the Chinese ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian.
Speaking to reporters after the temple visit, Albanese restated his government’s support for the AUKUS alliance on nuclear-powered submarines with the US and the United Kingdom despite fierce objections from China.
“We’re committed to AUKUS and we’re busy implementing it,” he said.
“And that’s what I mean by dealing with people honestly, upfront. We’ve been upfront about our engagement.
“We think that AUKUS is in Australia’s national interest. We also think that AUKUS is a vehicle to promote security, peace and stability in the region.”
Asked about China’s stated goal of reunification with Taiwan despite the island state’s objections, Albanese said the government supported the status quo.
In a key message to voters about the importance of his visit, Albanese pointed to the 250 Australian exporters at a Shanghai trade fair this week to emphasise the economic gains from his visit.
“I was with 250 Australian businesses. That’s about Australian jobs, that has an impact on our economy, that has an impact on inflation. It has an impact,” he said.
“We’re a trading nation. This is very much in Australia’s national interest for us to be engaged, just as it was in Australia’s national interest for me to be engaged in the United States.”
Xiao, the Chinese ambassador, said there was “no historical grudge between China and Australia,” despite the years of diplomatic tension between the two countries.
“Nor is there any fundamental conflict of interest,” he said. “The two countries can become mutually beneficial partners.”
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