CANBERRA, Australia – China’s ambassador to Australia says relations between the two countries are at a “new turning point” with the election of a new Australian government and the first minister-to-minister talks in more than two year.
Ambassador Xiao Qian gave an optimistic assessment of the potential of the bilateral relationship during a weekend speech to the Australia-China Friendship Society in the west coast city of Perth. The speech was posted Monday on the embassy’s website.
“The international, political and economic landscape is undergoing profound and complex changes. The China-Australia relationship is at a new turning point, facing many opportunities,” Xiao said.
“My Embassy and the Chinese Consulates General in Australia stand ready to work with the Australian Federal Government, state governments and friends from all walks of life to push China-Australia relations on the right track for the benefit of our two countries and two peoples,” Xiao added.
Xiao’s speech on Saturday came a day before Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe’s hour-long meeting with his Australian counterpart Richard Marles on the sidelines of a regional security summit in Singapore.
Marles described the meeting as a “critical first step” in mending bilateral relations. But observers are careful not to describe the meeting as the thaw of a diplomatic freeze between the countries.
Dennis Richardson, former head of defence, foreign affairs and spy agency Australian Security Intelligence Organization as well as a former Australian ambassador to the United States, noted that the two governments seized their first opportunity to have a ministerial contact since the Australian government changed in the May election. 21.
Bilateral relations had deteriorated during the nine years that a conservative coalition was in power.
“The fact that they agreed to speak at the very first opportunity is remarkable,” Richardson told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Monday.
“I don’t think we should go too far down the track on this. We have a long way to go,” added Richardson.
Malcolm Davis, senior defense strategy and capability analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank, cautioned against overstating the importance of the meeting.
“They had an hour-long meeting where they exchanged, frankly and fully, their respective views. This does not amount to restoring the status quo ante of the Australian relationship as it existed before 2015, when the relationship was reasonably good,” Davis said.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang wrote to congratulate Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese days after his election victory in a move seen by some as China seeking to reset relations.
Albanese responded by urging China to show goodwill by lifting a series of official and unofficial trade barriers created in recent years for a range of Australian exports worth billions of dollars, including coal, wine, barley, beef and seafood.
Bates Gill, a Macquarie University expert on Chinese foreign policy, suspected that Beijing would not budge on trade sanctions.
“There should be a price for Australia to accept Chinese demands. I just don’t think current policy will allow that,” Gill said.
Bilateral relations reached new depths at the start of the pandemic when Australia called for an independent inquiry into the origins and responses to COVID-19.
China’s latest ambassador to Australia has adopted a more conciliatory tone since arriving in Canberra in January than his predecessor, Cheng Jingye.
Cheng warned in 2020 against Chinese trade boycotts if Australia persisted in its call for a COVID-19 investigation.
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