Anthony Albanese is tempering expectations ahead of a landmark trip to China but says he won’t be afraid to be direct with Beijing.
The Prime Minister will hold talks with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang when he travels to China later this week – the first visit from an Australian leader in seven years.
The highly anticipated visit is seen as another positive step for the two nations after a series of disagreements put the diplomatic relationship in the deep freeze.
“I think the visit in itself is a positive,” Mr Albanese told ABC’s Wide Bay radio when asked what he hoped to get out of the visit.
He pointed to the return of detained journalist Cheng Lei and the removal of restrictions that effectively black-listed some Australian exports, such as barley, and a five-month review of tariffs on Australian wine.
The restrictions had been imposed after the Morrison government called for an international inquiry into the origins of Covid-19.
“We want to see a stabilisation of the relationship, where we co-operate wherever we can, we disagree where we have differences and we're open and honest about them and can talk those issues through,” Mr Albanese said.
But Mr Albanese made it clear he wouldn’t shy away from being “direct” with China when it came to the South China Sea and the UN convention on the law of the sea.
“It’s an important passageway for Australia’s trade up to Japan and Korea. It's important that international laws be respected,” he said.
“They know where we stand on these issues, but when one in four of our export dollars heads to just one destination, China, more than the combination of the next three, the United States, South Korea and Japan, then this is a relationship that has a direct impact on jobs here in Australia and on our economy, and that's why the relationship is important.”
He said Australians, and China itself, expected Mr Albanese to be “direct about our interests”.
“China knows that we‘re in an alliance with the United States. They know that we’re a nation that stands up for human rights and for the rule of law, and they expect us to do that,” he said.
“I think you've seen the improvement in the relationship in part because of just the way that we have conducted it.”
The three-day visit, which will include meetings with Mr Xi and Mr Li, is set to mark the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s first visit to China and comes less than a week after Mr Albanese’s visit to the US.
On Sunday, he suggested Australia had a role as a middle power in helping build “guard rails” between the US and Chinese militaries.
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 on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit.