Australia PM says China visit ‘very positive’ for bilateral relations

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Saturday his much-anticipated visit to China to meet with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang marks a “very positive step” in stabilising strained bilateral ties.

Arriving on Saturday, Albanese will be the first Australian leader to visit China since 2016, part of an effort to patch up relations that had deteriorated over several years due to disputes over Chinese telecoms firm Huawei, espionage and COVID-19.

“The fact that is it is the first visit in seven years to our major trading partner is a very positive step, and I look forward to constructive discussions and dialogue with President Xi and the Premier Li during my visit,” Albanese said in Darwin, the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory.

“It is a result of the patient, calibrated and deliberate approach that we have to the relationship with China.”

Albanese’s government has taken credit for stabilising ties with China since coming to office last year. China has lifted most trade blocks imposed in a 2020 diplomatic dispute that cost A$20 billion in commodity and food exports.

The Australian leader is to attend China’s top imports fair in Shanghai, to be opened by Li, on Sunday. He will meet Xi in Beijing on Monday, where the prime minister has said he will raise concerns over rising tensions in the South China Sea.

He said he would also raise the case of Australian writer Yang Hengjun, jailed in Beijing for four years on espionage charges. “The case needs to be resolved,” Albanese told reporters on Saturday.

He will be joined in Beijing by Foreign Minister Penny Wong before she makes a stopover in Tokyo for talks on the sidelines of a Group of Seven meeting, Wong’s office said.

(Reporting by Sam McKeith in Sydney)