Anthony Albanese is talking tough ahead of a landmark visit to China, vowing not to shy away from “straight talks” with President Xi Jinping.
The Prime Minister will head to Shanghai and Beijing this week for talks with his counterpart in what will be the first trip by an Australian leader in seven years.
But speaking ahead of the visit, Mr Albanese indicated issues such as China’s refusal to condemn Hamas, access in the South China Sea, and human rights issue were all on the table for discussion.
“We disagree on the basis of our political systems, on issues of human rights, on issues such as access to the South China Sea and the Taiwan straits … we will continue to put those positions, strongly, clearly and directly to China,” he told ABC’s Insiders.
He said it was only through “having those straight talks” that Australia would build its relationship with China.
A series of disagreements with the Coalition government put the diplomatic relationship between Canberra and Beijing in the deep freeze.
Mr Albanese first met the Chinese President for icebreaking talks on the sidelines of last year’s G20 leaders’ summit in Indonesia.
It had been hoped a second meeting would take place at this year’s summit in India, but Mr Xi was a no-show. Mr Albanese instead met with Premier Li Qiang on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit.
The three-day visit, which will include meetings with Mr Xi and Chinese Premier Li Qiang, is set to mark the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s first visit to China.
On Sunday, he suggested Australia as a “middle power” could play a role in improving relations between the US and China.
But he insisted he wouldn’t act as a “go-between” for the two leaders.
“My concern with the relationship between the United States and China is that there has been good engagement at the diplomatic level, at senior ministerial level equivalent in Australian terms, but military-to-military, there is still a lack of engagement,” he said.
He repeated the call to “build in guardrails”, which Mr Albanese first made at a security dialogue in Singapore earlier this year.
The Prime Minister’s comments come just days after President Joe Biden’s public warning for Mr Albanese not to fully trust China and verify all promises made.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said he was happy the visit was taking place but insisted Mr Albanese must be prepared to deliver some “tough messages”
“The Prime Minister describes this period as the most precarious and dangerous since the Second World War, and I agree with his assessment,” he told Sky News.
“We want a very strong trading relationship with China, but we have equities and values that are important and our sovereignty is sacrosanct.
“So we should be working with allies. We should be calling out bad behaviour where we see it.”