Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong has pledged to seize every opportunity to demand that the Chinese government drop “unwarranted trade strikes” after Beijing ended a diplomatic freeze of more than two years.
Australian analysts welcomed the opening of lines of communication with China after defense ministers met in Singapore on Sunday, but warned against expecting a substantial “reset” as big differences remain.
Chinese state media suggested on Monday that Australia should withdraw from groupings such as Aukus and the Quad “to restore ties with China” – policy changes the Albanian government has ruled out.
Wong said the Australian government believed dialogue was “in the interest of both countries”, but said substantive positions had not changed.
“We will always uphold Australia’s values and interests – whether it’s human rights, the South China Sea or transparent, rules-based trade,” Wong said on Monday. .
As the federal opposition urged the government not to make any concessions to China, Wong said Australia would “seize every opportunity to defend Australian exporters and call for the removal of unwarranted trade strikes”.
The next possibility for a high-level meeting is in Geneva, where Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell and Chinese Trade Minister Wang Wentao are both attending a World Trade Organization ministerial conference.
Farrell, who will be in Geneva until Thursday, said he wanted to engage with Wang, who had previously rejected former trade minister Dan Tehan’s requests for dialogue.
The former Australian government has repeatedly complained that China’s trade actions against a range of sectors – including wine, barley, seafood, coal and red meat – amounted to a campaign of “economic coercion” to pressure Australia to change its policies.
Tariffs, unofficial bans and tougher screening measures – championed by China on technical grounds – were rolled out in 2020 as relations between the two countries hit their lowest level in decades.
Beijing has opposed Australia’s first public call for an independent inquiry into the origins and handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as blocking Chinese foreign investment on national security grounds.
In a now infamous document – dubbed a ‘list of grievances’ by Australian media – China outlined 14 areas of friction in the relationship, such as Australia’s laws against foreign interference ‘targeting China’ and the ban of the Chinese telephone company Huawei in the deployment of 5G.
Other stories included “unfriendly” reporting by Australian media and “scandalous condemnation of China’s ruling party by MPs”. The release of the list has helped galvanize the resolve of Canberra’s main parties to stand firm.
Australia-China relations ‘no longer in free fall’
China’s foreign ministry said late Monday that a “sound and stable” relationship with Australia is in the interest of both countries.
Shortly after last month’s election, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang sent a congratulatory message to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, saying Beijing was “willing to work with the Australian side” to consider the future.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Albanese has since sent a “reply letter to express gratitude” to Li, but did not specify its contents or timing.
Wang called on the Australian government to look at China “in a sensible and positive way” and seek “common ground while setting aside differences.”
The comments come after Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles had an hour-long “frank” discussion with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Sunday.
The meeting was notable as China has not allowed phone calls or meetings between Australian ministers and their direct counterparts since the start of 2020. Chinese officials have repeatedly asserted that Canberra must take steps to foster a ” better mood” as a precondition for the resumption of the high-level dialogue.
Marles said he had “raised a number of issues of concern to Australia”, including China’s interception of an Australian P-8 aircraft over the South China Sea last month and the need to ensure that Pacific island countries “are not placed in a position of increased militarization”. ”.
Marles arrived in Japan on Monday for talks with Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, whom he also met in Singapore. Marles said Australia and Japan share “a vision of an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, where the sovereignty of all states is respected”.
Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute, said Sunday’s talks indicated Australia’s relationship with China was “no longer in freefall”, but that it would be wrong to “overinterpret a meeting”.
McGregor said China would “continue to challenge us in the South China Sea” and “protest the Quad” and oppose Australia talking about Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
“It is absolutely true that China has abandoned the Morrison government and they are ready to test what they can get from the new Labor government…and see if they can change Australia’s behavior in any substantial way,” McGregor said.
“I don’t think that will happen.”
Dennis Richardson, former Secretary of the Defense Department, told ABC TV that “it would be wishful thinking to think that the Chinese will stop their aggressive behavior” in the South China Sea.
Richardson said while he doesn’t expect changes to trade sanctions to come quickly, Beijing may consider adjustments over time.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Simon Birmingham described the meeting between Marles and Wei as “positive”.
He said the former Australian government had repeatedly called for a ministerial dialogue, but China’s decision to block such efforts was “deeply frustrating and frankly self-defeating”.
“It was a reflection on China that they weren’t willing to do it, and whether or not they favored a government in Australia, they frankly shouldn’t come into play on these sorts of issues,” the former trade minister told ABC Radio Adelaide. .
Birmingham said the test of dialogue would be results and Australia should “make no concessions to China”.
A state-run Chinese tabloid, the Global Times, quoted analysts on Monday as saying Australia should stop “engaging in a pointless arms race” and “imagining China as its imaginary enemy”.
Song Zhongping, a military expert and commentator, told the newspaper that it “would be wise” for Australia to leave “anti-China groupings and alliances such as the Aukus, if it intends to re-establish ties with China”.
Wei warned in a speech at the Singapore conference on Sunday that China would “fight to the end” to prevent Taiwan from declaring independence.
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Post expires at 4:28pm on Friday June 24th, 2022