Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has officially stated his intent to visit China “before the year ends”. President Xi Jinping had earlier extended an invitation to Mr. Albanese, which was accepted by the Prime Minister on the fringes of the East Asia Summit held in Indonesia after a conversation with Premier Li Qiang. The specifics of the proposed visit, however, remains unconfirmed.
The announcement follows a “frank and constructive discussion” between the two leaders addressing the strains on the relationship between their respective nations. Prior to this revelation, Mr. Albanese had harbored intentions of a meeting with the Chinese president at the G20 event in India but subsequently chose not to, in what was seen as a brush off to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The meeting with Premier Li saw Mr Albanese voicing a multitude of concerns which include the legal plight of incarcerated Australians Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun, human rights issues, as well as the existing constraints on trade. He emphasised Australia’s objective of cultivating a “productive and stable” diplomatic relationship with China, driven by collective benefit and reverence.
Earlier in the year, China lifted its tariffs on Australian barley but has not made similar inroads with the restrictions on Australian wine. When asked about Premier Li’s stance on this issue, Mr Albanese clarified that their dialogue was not a promise of tariff lifting. Instead, he characterized the discussions as a forum where matters are put forth and then subsequently addressed by officials, a method that had previously resolved the barley issue to the benefit of both countries.
Mr Albanese said regional topics, including the contentious South China Sea, had also been tackled during their conversation. With China’s unveiling of a new “standard map” featuring contentious territories sparking apprehension, he stated, “We all have an interest in a peaceful, secure and prosperous region and it serves as our starting point.”
Prime Minister Albanese mentioned Treasurer Jim Chalmers’ warning about Australia’s economic prospects depending on China’s economic challenges, and relayed Premier Li’s optimism. “He spoke about the rise of the middle class in China which they hope to double from 400 million to 800 million by 2035,” Mr Albanese stated, acknowledging China’s successful efforts to uplift millions of people from poverty over the years which he regarded as an understandable source of pride.
Mr Albanese is scheduled to visit the Philippines later this week, marking the first prime ministerial bilateral visit in two decades. Reiterating the Philippines’ significance to Australia, he said, “We have very strong economic relations with the Philippines, we also have strong connections when it comes to defence.”