Beijing (AFP) – Chinese President Xi Jinping will host Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Beijing on Monday, a meeting that symbolizes the softening of diplomatic relations after years of tensions that have slowed trade.
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The Asian giant is Canberra’s main economic partner. But bilateral ties have deteriorated significantly.
The Australian government then excluded the private Chinese group Huawei from the country’s 5G network in 2018 and in 2020 requested an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19 – an initiative that Beijing considered politically motivated because it came from a close partner of the country. U.S.
Relations have also been strained due to disputes over alleged Chinese influence operations in Australia.
In response, China imposed high tariffs on key Australian exports such as barley, beef and wine.
Beijing has also stopped purchasing significant quantities of raw materials from Australia, including coal, depriving the country of billions of dollars in revenue.
Many of the trade restrictions have, however, been gradually lifted since the Labor and Albanese Party returned to power in May 2022.
The meeting between Xi Jinping and Anthony Albanese will be the first between a Chinese president and an Australian prime minister in more than seven years.
Speaking to Australian television, Anthony Albanese on Monday welcomed the “promising signs” of an improvement in relations. He reported a “more constructive discussion” with Beijing and an “increase” in trade.
“We have already seen the disappearance of a number of obstacles to trade between our two countries,” he said.
“China is our main trading partner,” he added. “It represents more than 25% of our exports and one in four jobs depends on our trade. It is, therefore, an important relationship.”
Despite the thaw, the Australian Prime Minister clarified last month that the two countries were not strategically aligned and had different histories and values.
“We must cooperate with China when we can” and “disagree when necessary”, he stressed on Monday.
China also strongly criticizes the “Aukus” security pact, signed by Australia with the United States and the United Kingdom, which does not hide its desire to counter Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific.
This pact notably includes the delivery of nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra. Beijing sees this as a threat to its security, but also as an agreement that contravenes nuclear non-proliferation rules.
This week’s meetings between Anthony Albanese and Chinese officials will allow Beijing to present itself as a “benevolent partner” welcoming a friend back on the right path, said Courtney Fung, an analyst at Asia Society Australia, an Asia think tank.
“China will not want to insist on criticism of its economic coercion or its hostage diplomacy,” she told AFP.
China last month released Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who worked for Chinese English-language public television CGTN and had been detained for more than three years on charges of “disseminating state secrets abroad”.
His release revived the hopes of the children of Australian writer Yang Jun, imprisoned in China since 2019, who asked the Australian Prime Minister on Wednesday to discuss their father’s fate during his trip to Beijing.
China will want to present this visit by Anthony Albanese as Australia’s recognition of its past mistakes, says Yun Sun, a researcher at the Stimson Center, based in Washington.
“This will present Mr Albanese as (a leader) being on the right side of history and doing the right thing for the good of the (Australian) economy, especially export-oriented businesses, including wine,” she emphasizes.
“This is how China will present things.”