China’s message to Australia after three-year freeze – as Albanese arrives in Tokyo for summit 

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China’s message to Australia after almost three-year long freeze in relations between the nations – as Anthony Albanese takes his first international trip as PM

  • China put massive tariffs of up to 200 per cent on many Australian exports  
  • Diplomatic relations between the two countries have been tense for years 
  • The election of Anthony Albanese as Prime Minister offers a chance to reset 
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Australia’s relationship with China, which has been frozen for almost three years, is starting to show signs of thawing after a message to new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese from the Chinese Premier. 

As Mr Albanese flew to Tokyo for the crucial Quad leaders’ summit with Japan, the US and India, China’s Premier Li Keqiang congratulated him on winning the election.

Australia’s relations with China, which were already on a downward spiral, became increasingly tense in April 2020 when Australia backed a global inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. 

This led to massive tariffs of up to 200 per cent on many Australian exports to China, including wine, barley and wool, making it uneconomical for many exporters. 

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Australia's new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is pictured arriving in Tokyo on May 23, 2022, for a summit with US, Japanese and Indian leaders, known as the Quad

Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is pictured arriving in Tokyo on May 23, 2022, for a summit with US, Japanese and Indian leaders, known as the Quad

Premier Li’s conversation with Scott Morrison in Singapore in late 2018 was the last time he and an Australian leader spoke. 

But according to state-owned Xinhua news agency, Mr Li’s message to Mr Albanese emphasised the need for healthy China-Australia relations, saying it was conducive to peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

He said out the Labor Party under then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam had ‘made the right choice’ in 1972 by breaking ties with Taiwan to recognise the People’s Republic of China.

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Mr Li said that had made ‘a historic contribution to the development of China-Australia relations’.

Despite reaching out and seeking a new start, though, China feels threatened by the Quad group.   

Foreign minister Wang Yi warned on Monday that the ‘Cold War mentality’ of America and its allies was undermining Asia’s ‘peace and prosperity’. 

China’s anger was fuelled after US President Joe Biden, at a meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, said America had made a ‘commitment’ to use military force to defend Taiwan if China attempted to take the island by force.

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China banned all ministerial contact with the Morrison government in January 2020, while Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs reportedly assessed that Beijing was content to wait until power changed hands in Canberra. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping is pictured left, followed by Premier Li Keqiang, second from left. Mr Li has congratulated Anthony Albanese on becoming Prime Minister

Chinese President Xi Jinping is pictured left, followed by Premier Li Keqiang, second from left. Mr Li has congratulated Anthony Albanese on becoming Prime Minister

But the Albanese government has been warned in some quarters not to rush into a reset with China.

‘Any such approaches should be treated with a healthy dose of caution and scepticism – China’s intent would be to re-gear the relationship on terms more favourable to it,’ Richard Maude, a former senior Australian diplomat, now at the Asia Society Australia, told The Australian.

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China’s English-language paper, The Global Times, said the election of Mr Albanese provided ‘a turning point for the China-Australia relationship, which is currently at low ebb’.

Anthony Albanese is pictured arriving in Tokyo for a Quad meeting with the leaders of Japan, India and the US

Anthony Albanese is pictured arriving in Tokyo for a Quad meeting with the leaders of Japan, India and the US

But by Monday, it had returned to a warning, saying Mr Albanese’s attendance at the Quad meeting was ‘the first test of the political wisdom of the new Australian government’.

While flying to Tokyo, Mr Albanese spoke with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and affirmed his government’s support for the AUKUS security partnership Mr Morrison formed with the UK and the US. 

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