Australia and China open their first high-level dialogue in three years

Australia’s former Trade Minister Craig Emerson (left) and China’s former Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing in Beijing, yesterday

Australia and China opened their first high-level dialogue in three years yesterday in a sign of a slight thaw to relations between countries that have clashed on everything from human rights to COVID-19 origins to trade.

“I welcome the recent positive developments in the bilateral relationship, but we know that there is more work to do,” said Craig Emerson, the head of the Australian delegation and a former trade minister.

The dialogue being held in Beijing will focus on trade, people-to-people links and security.

China’s former Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said the two countries should work together, but added that “We should adhere to the liberalization of trade and jointly oppose the Cold War mentality, bloc confrontation and trade protectionism.”

During the freeze in relations with Beijing, Australia formed a nuclear partnership with the U.S. and the United Kingdom that enables Australia to access nuclear-powered submarines.

Australia’s current Foreign Minister Penny Wong has sought to stabilize the two countries’ relationship since her party won elections last year.

Yesterday, Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also met with China’s Premier Li Qiang at the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Indonesia, describing the engagement as positive.

“I told Premier Li that we would continue to cooperate where we can, disagree where we must and engage in our national interest,” Albanese said to reporters, adding he would visit China later this year at the invitation of President Xi Jinping.

China’s and Australia’s relations sank to low depths during the pandemic. The previous Australian government passed laws that ban covert foreign interference in domestic politics, barring Chinese-owned telecommunications giant Huawei from rolling out Australia’s 5G network due to security concerns, and for calling for an independent investigation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, China effectively blocked out Australian barley in 2020 by imposing an 80.5% tariff, widely regarded in Australia as punishment. MDT/AP

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