China's new Australia envoy wants to get ties on 'right track'

China's Ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian said the two governments are at a "critical juncture". PHOTO: CHINESE EMBASSY IN AUSTRALIA

CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG) - China's new ambassador to Australia has called for the two countries to get their relationship "back to the right track" after more than four years of chilly diplomatic relations, saying he sees his role as a "noble mission".

Mr Xiao Qian, Beijing's new top diplomat in Canberra, said in a statement issued shortly after he arrived in Australia on Wednesday (Jan 26) that the two governments are at a "critical juncture".

The relationship faces "many difficulties and challenges as well as enormous opportunities and potentials", he said, adding that he looks forward "to working with the Australian government and friends in all sectors to increase engagement and communication".

Relations between the Chinese government and Australia have deteriorated since 2017, when then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced legislation against foreign interference in politics - a measure Beijing's leaders saw as targeting China. The call in 2020 by his successor, Mr Scott Morrison, for an investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic further soured the relationship, with Australian exports including coal, wine and meat subsequently facing difficulties entering Chinese ports.

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said on Wednesday that China's "economic coercion" against the country has been unsuccessful, with no new sanctions being imposed in a year. In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, Mr Tehan said the trade barriers showed that the commercial relationship between Australia and China is "in both countries' interests".

"My hope is that over time, there will be recognition of that and we'll be able to work through these current disputes we're dealing with," he said.

A report by bank AMP released on Thursday found that the total value of Australian exports to China impacted by the trade disputes was A$23 billion (S$22 billion), less than 5 per cent of total exports. The report said producers of key goods have found alternate markets outside of China, including for wheat, barley and cotton.

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