By Işıkgün Akfırat
For the first time in three years, an Australian Foreign Minister – Penny Wong – visited Beijing on an official ecnounter. Australian officials gave the message that the mistakes of previous governments, which undermined bilateral relations along with American policies, will be reversed. The Chinese side welcomed Australia’s diplomatic move.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong arrived in Beijing, the capital of China, as part of a two-day visit last week. Wong became the first Australian executive to visit China at ministerial level since 2019. While the official contact was seen in the Chinese and Australian press as “a move to restore relations that had reached the breaking point”, in his message to mark the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations, Chinese president Xi Jinping emphasized that China is ready to advance cooperation on the basis of mutual respect and win-win.
‘Ice is melting slowly’
Australian Foreign Minister Wong said “The ice is melting, but slowly,” assessing the Australian-Chinese relations as she passed a frozen pond at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, where she was to meet with Yi. Commenting on the future direction of bilateral relations
When asked what would make the meeting a success when she arrived in Beijing, Wong said: “I think the dialogue itself is a success. Frankly, we have a lot of issues to work on, and dialogue is a prerequisite for working on these issues.” Wong added, “It is very nice to be in China after a long time”.
Opportunity to turn a new page
According to Sydney Morning, Australia’s oldest and largest newspaper, the new Labor Party government under Prime Minister Anthony Albanese that took over office on May 23, sees the meeting, held on the 50th anniversary of Sino-Australian diplomatic relations, as an important opportunity to rebuild goodwill with Beijing and stabilize relations with Australia’s largest trading partner.
Graham Fletcher, the Australian Ambassador to China who accompanied Minister Wong, also stated that they want the annual leaders’ meeting between the Chinese Prime Minister and the Australian Prime Minister to start again.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Monday that the visit was made builing upın the “contsurctive talks” held with by President Xi in Bali and that “Australia wants a stable relationship with China.”
‘We must learn lessons from history’
In the opening speech of the meeting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also talked about the difficulties experienced between Australia and China in recent years. Wang said, “Our relationship has faced difficulties and setbacks over the past few years. This is something we don’t want to see. Lessons must be learned from this. As major countries in the Asia-Pacific, we have economic structures that complement each other.” Wang insisted that “there is no historical animosity or fundamental conflicts of interest between the two countries”.
Bilateral relations had peaked in 2014, when President Xi held a speech in the Australian Parliament. With the free trade agreement signed in 2015, China’s economic investments in Australia had increased significantly.
However, the government of Scott Morrison from the Liberal Party that took office in 2018 followed the Cold War mentality of the USA and took part in regional anti-Chinese military alliances such as AUKUS. The pursued hostile policies undermined relations.
The Albanese government has expressed its desire to reverse this stormy weather on different occasions. For example, Australian Foreign Minister Wong, on September 24 at the United Nations, stated after meeting her counterpart Wang Yi that China is a “great power”. She said that “both sides need to take steps for a stable relationship”.
China might cancel customs taxes
As part of the G-20 Summit in Indonesia in November, Chinese President Xi met with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. In that meeting Albanese also said that Australia would stick to the main purpose behind the establishment of diplomatic ties and would facilitate the stable development of Australia-China relations.
The resumption of annual bilateral trade and economic talks, along with this visit, could provide an important forum for China to work with its largest trading partner on removing tariffs on Australia’s $20 billion worth of export goods.
Commenting on China’s tariffs on Australian goods such as barley, beef and wine, Wong said that Australia believes “it is in the interests of both countries to remove barriers to trade”.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Tuesday editions reported that Australian lobster and wine producers are starting to attract interest from Chinese importers and distributors. This development was interpreted by the newspapers as “a hopeful sign that the sanctions may be lifted soon”.
Global Times: Past mistakes are being corrected
In the article published by the Global Times (GT), English-language media organ of the Chinese Communist Party, signed by the “Editorial Board”, the rapidly deteriorating relations in the last few years are described as an exception considering the positive 50-year history. The article argued that those “can be interpreted as Canberra has gone astray in a short thoughtless moment and made its relationship with Beijing difficult”.
“We are pleased to see that the Anthony Albanese administration has shown willingness after taking office to improve and develop relations between the two countries, and China has responded positively. In addition, Australian public opinion generally supports Albanese’s efforts to strengthen China-Australia relations, while some former Australian political figures have also welcomed or acknowledged a series of bilateral contacts between the two countries”, the article continued.
Previous Malcolm Turnbull and Scott During the Morrison administration, the article stated, made sure that Australia “served as the most aggressive pawn against China on the Asia-Pacific chessboard of the United States” and that these two administrations’ “fundamental, narrow, flawed and stupid Chinese policies, accumulated in China-Australia relations for decades. This has seriously damaged the friendly and cooperative atmosphere”. The Global Times emphasized that these policies were a “US trap”.
“We hope Wong ‘s visit will push Australia and China to meet each other mid-way and get their relationship back on track.” For this, it was stated that Australia should approach China’s peaceful development with a rational perspective, stop arbitrary political investigations into Chinese investments, and stay away from confrontational and exclusionary bloc formations against China in the region.
Xi extended a hand of friendship
Chinese President Xi Jinping issued congratulatory messages yesterday to mark the 50th anniversary of relations between China and Australia. Australian Governor-General David Hurley and Prime Minister Anthony In his message to Albanese, Xi said that since the establishment of diplomatic relations 50 years ago, practical cooperation in various fields has yielded fruitful results and brought tangible benefits to the people of the two countries. He stressed that China is ready to advance relations on the basis of mutual respect and win-win principles.
Adding that the healthy and stable development of relations between China and Australia, the two important countries of the Asia-Pacific region will contribute not only to the basic interests of their people, but also to the peace, stability and prosperity of the region and the world, Xi stated that he attaches great importance to the development of China-Australia relations.