Prime Minister Anthony Albanese faces calls to return from China with a tangible benefit for the nation, as he becomes the first Australian leader to visit the country since 2016.
- Mr Albanese visits China, first trip by Australian leader in seven years
- He believes it’s proof that relations between Australia and China are ‘steadily improving’
- Trade negotiations are among the priorities of both countries
The Prime Minister will leave Darwin for Shanghai and Beijing on Saturday afternoon, presenting his invitation from Chinese President Xi Jinping as proof that relations between the two nations are steadily improving.
“The visit itself is a very positive thing,” he told reporters before boarding his RAAF plane.
“This is the result of the patient, calibrated and deliberate approach we are taking in our dealings with China.
“And the fact that this is the first visit in seven years to our main trading partner is a very positive step.”
A priority will be to pressure Beijing to drop crippling tariffs on Australian wine, similar to the approach taken on other Australian exports such as barley and coal.
Last month, the Chinese government announced it would review the 220 per cent tariff, which had reduced the annual value of Australian wine exports to China from $1.2 billion to $8 million.
The ongoing detention of Australian writer Yang Hengjun will also be at the heart of the discussions, following a heartfelt appeal from his family to the Prime Minister to use his visit to China to secure his release from prison.
“I will speak about his human rights, the nature of his detention and the lack of transparent processes,” Mr Albanese said.
A few weeks ago, Australian journalist Cheng Lei returned home after three years in a Beijing prison.
This development has fueled hope among Dr Yang’s family that a “second miracle” could be achieved by the Australian government.
A different approach from previous governments
While welcoming the Prime Minister’s trip to China, the Federal Opposition said the success of the visit would be marked by what Mr Albanese managed to achieve in discussions with President Xi.
“It’s a very important trip, it’s a significant trip, it’s welcome that it’s taking place, but it has to be strong and substantial before the symbolism or the ceremony,” said Shadow Foreign Secretary Simon Birmingham.
The last Australian prime minister to visit China was Malcolm Turnbull in 2016, and relations between the two countries deteriorated in the years that followed.
Beijing has hit back at the Turnbull government’s decision to block Chinese telecoms operator Huawei from any role in the development of the country’s 5G mobile network on national security grounds, and calls from Scott Morrison for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
Towards the end of the Morrison government, Chinese ministers refused to even pick up the phone and speak to their Australian counterparts.
“Let us understand that the Coalition has made a series of very important decisions in Australia’s interests, which have not been reversed by this government,” Senator Birmingham said.
“China has overreacted to these measures, and it has overreacted by ending dialogue or discussions and seeking to demand that Australia change its policy settings.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Mr Albanese’s trip, 50 years after Prime Minister Gough Whitlam became the first Australian leader to visit China, was “of a great importance in perpetuating the past and opening the future.
“China is willing to work with Australia to take this visit as an opportunity to strengthen communication, increase mutual trust, expand cooperation, deepen friendship, and promote the continuous improvement and development of bilateral relations in a spirit of mutual respect, mutual benefit and the search for a common ground while reserving differences.
Other commercial negotiations are underway
As the prime minister pushes China to lift trade sanctions on Australian exports, it is likely that the Chinese president will use their meeting to encourage the Albanian government to let China join the world’s biggest trade deal – the Accord Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership). CPTPP).
Senator Birmingham argued that this would not be a wise decision.
“We need to be very clear that China has not acted in good faith towards Australia on trade in recent years,” he told reporters in Adelaide.
“They acted in breach of their obligations under the World Trade Organization and in breach of their obligations under the free trade agreement with Australia.
“And given the bad faith we have witnessed, we must be clear that we would not be able, in the near future, to support China’s membership in the CPTPP.”
Mr Albanese will attend a business summit in Shanghai on Sunday, before heading to Beijing.
He will meet President Xi Jinping on Monday.