Australia PM Albanese plays down China reset after diplomatic meeting

It was the first public meeting between Australian and Chinese government officials in more than two years. PHOTO: AUSTRALIAN DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE/AFP

BRISBANE (BLOOMBERG) - Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Tuesday (June 14) downplayed the possibility of a reset in relations with the Chinese government after a high-profile meeting between the two countries, saying Beijing must first lift sanctions on a wide-range of Australian exports.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles met China's Defence Minister Wei Fenghe on Sunday in Singapore, where both were attending the annual IISS Shangri-La Dialogue.

It was the first public meeting between Australian and Chinese government officials in more than two years, following a diplomatic freeze amid rapidly deteriorating relations.

Mr Marles said the meeting had been a "very frank and full exchange" but also a "critical first step" in restoring relations with Beijing.

At a press conference in Brisbane on Tuesday, Mr Albanese said it was "always a good thing that people have dialogue and have discussions", something which he said had been "missing" under the previous Australian government.

But the new Australian leader, who was sworn into office after winning an election on May 21, said any further warming of relations with the Chinese government would depend on whether or not they agreed to remove trade sanctions and barriers on Australian exports.

Following a call by then Prime Minister Scott Morrison in April 2020 for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19, Australian exports including timber, coal, meat and wine began to face difficulties entering Chinese ports, including tariffs and long customs delays.

"They need to remove those sanctions in order to improve relations between Australia and China," said Mr Albanese. "It is China that have imposed sanctions, it is China that has changed, and it's China that needs to remove those sanctions."

China’s foreign ministry said on Monday that Mr Albanese had responded to a message of congratulations from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on his election win last month, adding that it too wanted to see action for ties to improve.

“To improve China-Australia relations, there is no‘auto-pilot’ mode. A reset requires concrete actions,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular press briefing in Beijing. He did not elaborate on the action China wanted.

Mr Albanese declined to elaborate on what he had said to Mr Li.

“I responded appropriately,” he told reporters.

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