Australia’s foreign minister travels to China amid recent signs of thaw – The Diplomat

advertisement

The first visit by an Australian foreign minister to China in four years raises hopes that Australia will make progress in ending trade sanctions and releasing two Australian nationals detained in China.

But Australia’s Foreign Secretary Penny Wong warned ahead of her departure on Tuesday that some of the thorny issues between the countries will take time to resolve. Still, diplomatic experts hailed the visit as a positive step after years of frosty relations.

Wong is set to meet with her counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing this week as Australia and China celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations. The visit will include a new round of talks on foreign policy and strategic issues after talks were suspended in 2018.

“There has been a lot of speculation over the last 24 hours or more as to what is going to happen,” Wong told reporters. “I will say this: the expectation should be that we will meet, and that dialogue itself is essential to stabilize the relationship. Many of the difficult issues in the relationship will take time to resolve on our behalf.”

diplomatic letter

Weekly NewsletterN

Catch up on the story of the week and develop stories to watch across Asia Pacific.

Get the newsletter

She said she did not want to speculate on the outcome as it could impact Australia’s hold on the talks.

Do you like this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Only $5 per month.

“Regarding consular cases, to spare you the question, I will of course raise consular cases as I always do, just as I will continue to advocate for the lifting of trade barriers,” Wong said.

Australia has been pushing for the release of spy author Yang Hengjun, whom China has accused of espionage, and journalist Cheng Lei, whom China has accused of leaking state secrets.

China does not recognize dual citizenship, and Chinese-born defendants like Yang and Cheng are often not treated the same as other foreigners, especially when faced with espionage allegations.

advertisement

Wong’s trip signals an ongoing thaw in relations between the two nations since Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese won an election in May and replaced the more conservative Scott Morrison in the top spot.

Albanian and Chinese President Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali last month, the first formal meeting of its kind between the leaders of the two nations in six years.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said China hopes the visit will build on the momentum toward improved relations built at the Bali summit. China hopes the two countries will “put bilateral ties back on track and achieve sustainable development,” Mao said at a daily briefing this week.

Australia-China relations have been tenuous for several years after China imposed trade barriers and denied high-level exchanges in response to Australia enacting rules against foreign interference in its domestic politics and calls for an independent investigation into the COVID-19 pandemic .

Jennifer Hsu, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute think tank, said the resumption of diplomatic dialogue is a welcome development. She said she could “see the wheels turning on a number of issues related to Australia and China”.

“It would be great if there was a breakthrough, but these things take time,” Hsu said.

She noted that China could see some economic benefit from easing its trade sanctions on Australian goods.