Chinese residents would have been stunned to see Anthony Albanese walking in the early morning in central Shanghai.
The Prime Minister donned a green and gold Matilda jersey and cap from his beloved South Sydney Rabbitoh’s as he strolled through the Bund waterfront district of downtown Shanghai on Sunday morning.
He was accompanied by at least eight security guards as he greeted casual passers-by on the almost deserted esplanade and asked them in typical Australian fashion: “How are you?”
Despite the seemingly large presence of security forces – at least in Western eyes – many residents were apparently shocked to see a world leader interacting in public with the population.
“Many Shanghainese people couldn’t believe how light his security guards were – or that he spoke to passersby the way he did,” said the Australian newspaper’s Northeast Asia correspondent Will Glasgow.
Anthony Albanese (pictured) donned a green and gold Matilda jersey and cap from his beloved South Sydney Rabbitoh’s as he strolled through the Bund waterfront area of downtown Shanghai on Sunday morning .
“This could never happen in China,” one told me. »
Others were baffled by his identity, with one speculating he was “maybe an actor, entrepreneur or CEO.”
Mr Glasgow asked the Prime Minister if he had enjoyed his trip, to which he laughed and replied: “Yes, it’s quite good.”
Yaqiu Wang, research director at the pro-democracy organization Freedom House, praised Mr. Albanese’s “good diplomatic tactics.”
“Chinese people are so used to their leaders being distant and untouchable that when a leader behaves like a normal person, it brings up a lot of comforting feelings,” Ms. Wang said.
Ms Yaqiu also urged the Australian Prime Minister to raise the plight of the Uyghurs with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
On Sunday, Mr Albanese visited a trade show in Shanghai where many Australian products were on display. Beijing has lifted most of its punitive tariffs on Australian goods, leaving just $2 billion on products like lobster and meat from some slaughterhouses.
The Chinese government has committed a series of human rights violations against the Uighur population in Xinjiang, in the northwest of the country.
These abuses have been described by many international observers as genocide.
Many have also accused Mr Albanese of taking inspiration from former Prime Minister John Howard, who was so famous for his tracksuit walks that Canberra’s Questacon science museum named one of its “Wonder Walks” after him.
Others were more critical of Mr. Albanese’s world trip.
“He’s just a tourist with a list of countries he wants to see while the taxpayer foots the bill,” one wrote.
Mr Albanese is the first Australian Prime Minister to visit China since 2016.
His trip comes on the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s historic 1973 visit – the first by an Australian prime minister to China – and at a time when relations between Beijing and Canberra are thawing slightly.
The Chinese Communist Party has lifted most of its punitive tariffs on Australian goods, leaving only $2 billion.
China is also reviewing its $1.2 billion ban on Australian wine and is expected to lift sanctions after a five-month process.
The other sanctions apply to lobster and certain slaughterhouses.
Chinese state media hailed the prime minister’s trip as heralding a new starting point for bilateral relations between the two nations.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese arrived at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport for a three-day visit to China
Mr Albanese is the first Australian Prime Minister to visit the country since 2016
On Sunday, Mr Albanese visited a trade show in Shanghai where many Australian products were on display.
He said he would not rule out supporting China’s bid to join the 12-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“What we have said is that any country must demonstrate that it can meet the high standards of the agreement and that is the basis of all of this going forward,” he said.
He flew Sunday evening to Beijing where he will meet Chinese leader Xi Jingping at the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square.
Before the high-level talks, he will visit the Temple of Heaven, as Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam did during his historic visit to China in 1973.
Mr Albanese reaffirmed his desire to increase the detention of Australian writer Yang Hengjun, who spent more than four years behind bars on espionage charges.