Australia-China foreign ministers meet in bid to repair ties

BEIJING (AP) — The foreign ministers of Australia and China met in Beijing on Wednesday in a bid to restore high-level political contacts and return stability to the countries’ tense relationship.

The visit by Penny Wong was the first visit by an Australian foreign minister to China in four years and came on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of official diplomatic relations between the nations. Both sides said they hoped the occasion would help improve economic and political ties.

“We’ve continued to put the view that we are able to grow our bilateral relationship and uphold our respective national interests if we navigate our differences wisely,” the Australian Associated Press news agency quoted Wong as saying after meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Wong said she raised issues ranging from trade and human rights to regional and international security and “the norms and global rules which underpin our prosperity,” AAP reported. She said the two ministers agreed to hold further discussions.

China’s Foreign Ministry said the meeting was “another important high-level interaction between the two countries recently.”

“It is believed that this visit can help both sides to … step up dialogue, expand cooperation, manage differences and bring the bilateral relationship back on the right track and realize its sustainable development,” spokesperson Mao Ning said at a daily briefing.

Wong’s visit has raised hopes of further talks on ending import restrictions imposed by China and the possible freeing of two Australian citizens detained in China. Wong said she will continue to advocate for Australians held in China, without giving details.

Her trip furthers a tentative thaw in relations between the two nations since Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese won an election victory in May, replacing the more conservative Scott Morrison in the top role.

Albanese and Chinese President Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit last month in Bali, the first such formal meeting between the leaders of the two nations in six years.

Relations between Australia and China have been poor since China imposed trade barriers and refused high-level exchanges in response to Australia enacting rules targeting foreign interference in its domestic politics and calling for an independent inquiry into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Albanese has said he remains committed to building a fleet of submarines powered by U.S. nuclear technology despite the French president describing the plan as a “confrontation with China.”

As a treaty partner with the U.S., Australia is viewed by China as part of a scheme to prevent it from asserting diplomatic and military supremacy over the South China Sea and most of East Asia.

That has prompted many nations, including Australia, to seek a balance between their crucial economic ties with China and their long-standing security relations with the U.S.

Without mentioning Wong’s visit, China’s official Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday said Xi had exchanged greetings on the half-century of ties with Albanese and Australian Governor-General David Hurley.

Cooperation between China and Australia has “achieved fruitful results, bringing tangible benefits to the people of the two countries,” Xi was quoted as saying.

Healthy ties are “conducive to promoting peace, stability and prosperity of the region and the world,” Xi said, adding that the two nations should “adhere to mutual respect (and) win-win principles.”

Australia established diplomatic relations with the Republic of China in 1941, but those were severed following the Chinese Communist Party’s overthrow of the Nationalist government in 1949 and were not restored until 1972.

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