Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has confirmed he will pressure the Chinese government to resolve the case of detained Australian writer Yang Hengjun during a three-day official visit.
Mr Albanese, who will leave Darwin on Saturday afternoon for Shanghai before heading to Beijing on Sunday, is the first Australian leader to visit China in seven years.
The trip also coincides with the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s historic 1973 trip, the first by an Australian Prime Minister to the People’s Republic of China.
Mr Albanese will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday, which the government hopes will stabilize relations between the two countries.
While the visit will highlight trade, the Prime Minister will also advocate for the release of Dr. Yang, who was arrested by Chinese authorities in 2019 and faces espionage charges, the basis of which is not clear.
Australian academic Yang Hengjun (pictured with his wife) remains detained in a Chinese prison on espionage charges.
“I will say that Dr Yang’s case needs to be resolved and I will talk about his human rights, the nature of his detention and the lack of transparent processes,” Mr Albanese said in Darwin.
Although the government has previously raised the issue of Dr Yang’s detention, hope is being rekindled following the recent release of Chinese-born Australian television journalist Cheng Lei after three years in detention, also on espionage charges. .
This comes after Dr Yang’s family wrote a heartfelt letter to the Prime Minister ahead of his meeting with the Chinese president.
Dr Yang’s sons urged the prime minister to “act now” and “perform a second miracle by saving our father, who has now spent four years and nine months in detention”.
“We ask that you do everything in your power to save our father’s life and immediately return him to his family and freedom in Australia,” they wrote.
“We ask you to clarify that it is not possible to stabilize bilateral relations with a government that detains an Australian citizen just a few kilometers south of where you will be housed.”
Mr. Yang has been imprisoned for espionage since his arrest in January 2019 at Guangzhou airport, while on his way to visit his sick brother.
Dr Yang was tried behind closed doors in Beijing in May 2021 and has languished in a cell ever since. No verdict has been made public.
Anthony Albanese (left) will call for Dr Yang’s imprisonment to be resolved when he meets Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) on Monday. Pictured are the two leaders during a meeting in 2022
Mr Albanese will also focus on reinvigorating the China-Australia bilateral free trade agreement, resolving Chinese trade bans on some Australian exports, as well as resolving future disputes.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner, particularly for iron ore, natural gas and critical minerals such as lithium.
“The fact that this is the first visit in seven years to our largest trading partner is a very positive step, and I look forward to constructive discussions and dialogue with the President and Prime Minister during my visit in Shanghai and Beijing,” Albanese said. .
At the height of a diplomatic row with China in 2020, Beijing imposed trade bans worth $20 billion on Australian products.
The Labor government has managed to reduce these tariffs to around $2 billion since coming to power in 2022.
China lifted tariffs on barley in August following a review and is undertaking a five-year review of its ban on Australian wine worth $1.2 billion.
The remaining trade issues are the ban on lobster and beef exports, and hopes are high that at least one of these issues will be resolved.
Imprisoned Australian academic Yang Hengjun (pictured) told the Prime Minister in a recent letter he was almost destroyed. “I just hope I can make it out alive.”
However, Mr Albanese also signaled that Australia would not support China’s efforts to join a trans-Pacific free trade agreement.
Xi is expected to press the prime minister for Australia’s support for his country’s bid for the 12-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
China considers its relations with Canberra to be at the forefront of its relations with developed countries.
But he also believes that his request to join the trans-Pacific trade bloc is crucial to improving economic cooperation between the two countries.
On Sunday, Albanese will attend the opening of the China International Import Expo in Shanghai.
More than 200 Australian companies will be represented at the event, and Mr Albanese is expected to visit stands of Australian companies in the agricultural sector.
Mr Albanese, pictured in Darwin on Saturday, is on his way to Beijing to meet the Chinese president.
Trade Minister Don Farrell will accompany the Prime Minister to the event and will likely meet his Chinese counterpart Wang Wentao.
A delegation of members from the Business Council of Australia will also travel to Shanghai this weekend with Mr Albanese in a bid to boost economic opportunities.
Mr Albanese’s visit will include a grand welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday, during which he will meet Mr Xi.
The two last met a year ago at a G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia.
The next day, he will return to the Great Hall to meet with Premier Li Qiang before returning home.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong is also accompanying Mr Albanese to China.