The Albanese government must “remain clear-eyed” about China, the Coalition has warned, despite the Prime Minister’s meeting with Xi Jinping in Beijing marking a significant thawing in the relationship.
Anthony Albanese’s meeting with Mr Xi marks the first time an Australian prime minister has visited China in seven years, and comes after China wound back billions of dollars worth of economic trade sanctions first imposed in 2020.
Mr Albanese declared the visit was about “taking forward” Australia’s relationship with China and affirmed his commitment to navigating challenges and differences “wisely and with great respect”.
The government has maintained the meeting marks a “stabilisation” rather than a “normalisation”, but the Coalition’s foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham has warned against being too trusting.
“It’s important that we try to pursue stability in Australia’s interests wherever possible, but it’s also critical that the Australian government remain clear-eyed about China and the challenges it poses,” he told ABC Radio.
“It’s important that whilst this visit might be positive, the Albanese government cannot get any rose-coloured glasses about the challenges that are there as well.
“Australia should be proud of the fact that we have withstood China’s attempts at economic coercion.”
Australia’s diplomatic and trading relationship with China was plunged into the deep freeze in 2020, with Beijing imposing sanctions worth up to $20bn in contravention of the free trade agreement.
Already $18bn of that had been clawed back, with another $1bn set to follow if China winds back tariffs on wine later this year.
Mr Albanese has maintained the meeting with Mr Xi was “not transactional”, but government ministers have been quick to assert that doesn’t mean Australia will walk away empty-handed.
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said Mr Albanese had not gone into the meeting “expecting to return with a bag of goodies”.
“I think what the Prime Minister is referring to is that we don’t expect a quid pro quo for everything,” he said.
“We won’t give one thing and expect one thing back, and equally China aren’t looking to us to deliver one thing in return for something that they give us.”
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was the last prime minister to visit China in 2016, said Mr Albanese’s visit showed Beijing had recognised its “coercive control” had failed.
“So we’re back to, I think, a more conventional standard sort of relationship, which I absolutely welcome,” he told ABC Radio.
Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Tim Watts said the climate in 2023 was markedly different to how things stood in 2016.
“We can’t go back to the days of 2016 where your security and economic interests were completely separate,” he told ABC News.
“We understand that in the new world that we live in, those issues are entangled and that makes the relationship with China important but also complex.”
Senator Birmingham also doubled down on his warning that China couldn’t join the trans-Pacific trade pact, the CPTPP.
“Its punishment of Australia with its weaponisation of trade and breaches of the China-Australia free trade agreement mean that it would not be appropriate for us right now to be looking at extending membership of another trade agreement to China who have acted in such bad faith in recent years,” he said.