Anthony Albanese has arrived in China, beginning an official visit aimed at cementing stable ties with the country after years of strained relations between Canberra and Beijing.
- Mr Albanese seeks to steer Australia-China relations onto a more stable path.
- His visit marks the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s historic trip to China in 1973.
- The government said the prime minister would raise the issue of detained Australian writer Yang Hengjun during his visit.
The Prime Minister landed at around 6:15 p.m. local time on Saturday and was welcomed by Australian Ambassador to China Graham Fletcher, Chinese Ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian and Shanghai Vice Mayor Xie Dong .
He was then taken to a welcome banquet hosted by Chinese Premier Li Qiang, ahead of the China International Import Expo.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be here, the first Australian Prime Minister to visit in seven years,” Mr Albanese said after attending the banquet.
“We must cooperate with China where we can, disagree where we must, but we will also engage in our national interest.
“It is in Australia’s interests to have a positive, constructive, open and respectful dialogue with our largest trading partner.”
Mr Albanese is the first Australian Prime Minister to visit mainland China in seven years. His trip is expected to be heavy with symbolism, given that it marks the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s historic visit to China.
Mr Whitlam visited China in 1971 as leader of the opposition, and returned in 1973 as Prime Minister – the first Australian leader to visit the country – after establishing formal diplomatic relations with the communist-led People’s Republic of China.
Coverage of Albanese’s visit in Chinese state media has been largely positive, calling it a “breakthrough” that “turns a new page” in relations between the two countries.
But reports and editorials have blamed tensions in the relationship solely on Australia and called for caution about U.S. motives in the region and U.S.-Australia ties.
“The future will also depend on Australia’s ability to eradicate internal and external interference to avoid a repeat of past mistakes,” said a editorial in state media The Global Times declared.
“It is worth mentioning the role of the United States here, as its significant influence on Australian policy towards China will persist in the long term.”
These reports also sought to highlight the trade benefits that could arise from a positive relationship between China and Australia.
Various trade bans and tariffs on many Australian imports, including coal, barley and timber, have been lifted in recent months, and the positive change in relations is giving other industries, such as fishing lobster, the hope that similar sanctions will soon be lifted on their products as well.
China recently agreed to review tariffs of up to 220 percent it imposes on Australian wine, a process that will take around five months.
Sunday’s agenda will focus on trade, with Mr Albanese visiting Australian businesses attending the import show and addressing a business lunch.
But the most difficult part of the trip will come on Monday, when Mr Albanese is due to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
As both sides attempt to strike a positive tone, the Albanian government insists the prime minister will address issues such as detained Australian writer Yang Hengjun, human rights, activities China’s military in the South China Sea and stability in the region in general. with Mr. Xi and the country’s second-ranking official (and Mr. Albanese’s official host), Mr. Li.
Just weeks ago, journalist Cheng Lei was released and returned to Australia after three years in a Beijing prison – but fears remain for Dr Yang, a writer and democracy advocate who has been imprisoned for almost five years and whose health is currently poor.