BEIJING/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met Chinese Premier Li Qiang in Beijing on Tuesday, restarting an annual leaders’ dialogue that Albanese said will continue as relations between the trading partners stabilised.
Albanese is in China on the first visit by an Australian leader in seven years, after a diplomatic dispute had put a halt to once-annual meetings of leaders.
President Xi Jinping said on Monday stable ties between China and Australia served each other’s interests and both should expand cooperation, sending a clear signal that China was ready to move on from recent tensions.
“The fact that these meetings are now going to continue is very important for our relations,” Albanese told Li at the Great Hall of the People.
China is willing to work with Australia to further strengthen dialogue, deepen mutual trust, properly handle differences and make cooperation the main feature of bilateral ties, Li told Albanese.
“The potential for cooperation between China and Australia is enormous,” Li said.
China has lifted trade blocks on most Australian exports imposed in 2020 in the wake of Australia’s call for an international investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
China’s October imports from Australia grew 12% from a year earlier to $11.96 billion, Chinese customs data showed on Tuesday, accelerating from the 4.9% increase in September.
From January to October, Chinese imports rose 8.4% to $128.76 billion. Last year, imports from Australia dived 12.7% to $142.1 billion.
Albanese said he had used the four-day visit to advocate for Australia’s interests in trade, human rights, regional and global issues.
“While there are differences between us, both Australia and China benefit from cooperation and dialogue,” Albanese said.
Among differences between the two countries is Beijing’s growing security ties with Pacific island nations, while Australia’s QUAD partnership with the U.S., India and Japan in the Indo-Pacific has stoked China’s worries about containment.
On Monday, Xi had warned in his meeting with Albanese against “bloc politics”.
China was “ready to carry out more trilateral and multilateral cooperation with Australia to support South Pacific countries in enhancing development resilience, addressing climate change and other challenges”, Xi said.
Albanese travels from China to the Cooks Islands on Tuesday to attend the Pacific Islands Forum, an annual meeting of leaders of a region where the United States and its allies have stepped up competition with China for influence. Security ties should be kept within the region, he told reporters.
Albanese, in his remarks to Li, stressed the importance of managing rivalries.
“Where there is geostrategic competition, we must all manage it carefully, through dialogue and through understanding,” he said.
In a statement after the meeting, Albanese did not mention key points of difference with China – including tensions in the South China Sea, and the AUKUS defence technology partnership with the United States and Britain to sell nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Additional reporting by Ellen Zhang in Beijing; editing by Robert Birsel and David Evans)