Aussie foreign minister to visit China as frosty relations thaw

SYDNEY/BEIJING • Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne will travel to China this week, the two governments announced yesterday, as Beijing ended an unofficial suspension for more than six months of visits by top Australian government ministers.

Ties between the two countries, which compete for influence in Asia and particularly in the Pacific, have been strained since Australia accused China of meddling in its domestic affairs late last year.

Ending the stand-off, China's Foreign Ministry said Ms Payne's visit, which begins tomorrow, will include talks with State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Her trip is seen in Canberra as a bid by Beijing to seek warmer ties with Australia's recently installed Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

"I am looking forward to discussions with Minister Wang to enhance bilateral understanding and cooperation across the full range of Australia's interests, spanning strategic, economic and people-to-people connections," Ms Payne said in a statement.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said that Ms Payne and Mr Wang had met in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and had reached "an important consensus" on ties.

"We are willing to work hard with the Australian side on the basis of mutual respect, equality and benefit to expand exchanges and cooperation in all fields," Ms Hua told reporters.

Ties between the two countries, which compete for influence in Asia and particularly in the Pacific, have been strained since Australia accused China of meddling in its domestic affairs late last year.

In August, Mr Morrison became Australia's sixth different prime minister in the last decade after a backbench revolt ousted his predecessor, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, who had criticised China and banned its Huawei Technologies from Australia's broadband network.

Mr Morrison has steered clear of foreign affairs.

Mr Michael O'Keefe, head of politics at La Trobe University in Melbourne, said: "Morrison has been entirely focused on domestic politics, avoiding a lot of Turnbull's foreign policy. No doubt this has been warmly received by China."

Signs of warmer ties will cheer Australia's business community after the diplomatic row spilled over to hit two-way trade, most notably, sales of Australian wine.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2018, with the headline 'Aussie foreign minister to visit China as frosty relations thaw'. Print Edition | Subscribe