Australia's new Labor govt says China relations to remain challenging

Australia's newly elected prime minister Anthony Albanese said the bilateral relationship would remain "a difficult one". PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia's relations with China will remain challenging, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said on Tuesday (May 24) amid reports the Chinese premier had congratulated the new Labor government on its weekend election victory.

Ties between Australia and China, its largest trading partner, are at a low ebb after they clashed over a number of issues including trade, the origins of the novel coronavirus and accusations from Australia of Chinese political interference.

"From an Australian point of view, we understand the complexity of the relationship... but China is seeking to shape the world around it in ways we have not seen before," Mr Marles told ABC television.

"All of that I think is going to make it a pretty challenging pathway forward."

Mr Anthony Albanese, who was sworn in as Australia's 31st prime minister on Monday, said the bilateral relationship would remain "a difficult one" before he left for a Quad summit in Tokyo with US President Joe Biden and the prime ministers of Japan and India.

The Quad is an informal security grouping seen in Beijing as an attempt to counter China's growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

A Xinhua report said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Monday sent a congratulatory message to Albanese over his election win, possibly ending a two-year Chinese diplomatic freeze of Australia.

"The Chinese side is ready to work with the Australian side to review the past, look into the future... to promote the sound and steady growth of their comprehensive strategic partnership," Premier Li said, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency late on Monday.

Mr Marles said he was not aware of any communication from Beijing.

China cut off diplomatic and trade channels with Australia in a largely symbolic act of fury last May, following clashes over issues including human rights, espionage and the origins of Covid-19.

Canberra had called for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus and banned telecoms giant Huawei from building Australia's 5G network.

China - Australia's biggest trading partner - responded by imposing tariffs or disrupting more than a dozen key industries, including wine, barley and coal.

Labor returned to power as a wave of support for the Greens and climate-focused independents, mostly women, helped unseat the conservative Liberal-National coalition in Saturday's general election.

Former Defence Minister Peter Dutton was shaping up as favourite to lead the Liberals, local media reported, after former Prime Minister Scott Morrison stepped down as party leader.

With votes still being counted, Labor is leading on 75 seats - one short of a majority. Some analysts predict Labor will get enough seats to govern on their own.

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