Australia trade minister seeks to mend ties on visit to China

Australia trade minister seeks to mend ties on visit to China

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Australia trade minister seeks to mend ties on visit to China

A shopper walks past cartons of shelf-stable milk from Australian dairy Devondale at a supermarket in Beijing on May 12.

Australia’s Trade and Tourism Minister Don Farrell appears to be making progress in restoring a nearly decade-long rift in relations with China during a visit to Beijing.

Farrell was holding meetings and visiting businesses on Friday in a sign that relations were getting back on track.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese speaking in Sydney on Friday said the sides needed to “develop understanding and dialogue and I’ve said we’ll co-operate with China where we can, we’ll disagree where we must and we’ll engage in a national interest.”

China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, with two-way exchanges totaling $287 billion in 2022. China recently resumed imports of coal, cotton and copper from Australia, and Farrell has said on his visit he would push for a review of tariffs on Australian barley.

China blocked such exports in retaliation for moves targeting Beijing’s alleged interference in Australian elections and political life and social organizations in the large Australian-Chinese community.

While trade ties seem to be improving, the sides remain far apart on political and security issues in the Asia-Pacific region.

On his arrival Thursday, Farrell said he hoped his visit would “continue that process of stabilizing our relationship and work through a successful pathway for the resolution of all of our outstanding trade differences.”

“The issues didn’t occur overnight and they’re not going to be resolved overnight,” Farrell said.

In April, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said bilateral relations were unlikely to return to the level of the early 2000s, when trade was separated from political and strategic priorities.

Since then, Australia has expanded security cooperation with the United States, China’s main rival for influence in the Asia-Pacific.

Beijing has strongly criticized Australia’s participation in the so-called AUKUS partnership, which links it with the United States and Britain to create an Australian fleet of eight submarines powered by U.S. nuclear technology, largely in response to China’s growing military assertiveness in the South China Sea, the South Pacific and the East China Sea.

Albanese will host U.S. President Joe Biden and the leaders of India and Japan–countries with which China has active land and sea border disputes–for a May 24 summit of leaders of the so-called Quad nations.

Australia has also blocked the sale of assets, including critical infrastructure, to Chinese companies on national security grounds in recent years.

Farrell also said he would meet with Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao following a commitment in February to improve dialogue “at all levels as a pathway towards the full resumption of trade.”