BEIJING: Chinese leader Xi Jinping told Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese Monday that their countries could become “trusting partners,” pledging to work with Canberra on everything from regional security to climate change as the two leaders eased years of tensions that cut billions of dollars in trade.
Beijing is Canberra’s biggest trading partner, but relations plummeted in 2020 after Australia’s then-conservative government barred Chinese tech giant Huawei from 5G contracts and called for an inquest into the origins of COVID-19, which was first detected in China.
A furious Beijing then slapped punitive tariffs on a slew of Australian commodities including coal and barley the relationship descended into a deep freeze.
But China has reversed course since Albanese took power in May last year, lifting most of its restrictions on Australian goods and saying it wants “healthy andstable” ties.
Meeting Albanese in Beijing on Monday, Xi said the two countries had “no fundamental conflict of interests.”
China and Australia, Xi said, could “become mutually trusting and mutually successful partners,” according to a readout of the meeting by state broadcaster CCTV.
“In the face of major changes in the world, the two sides should grasp the correct development direction for China-Australia relations,” he said.
This included cooperation on everything from “the peace and stability of the Asia Pacific region” to climate change, the Chinese leader said.
And in opening remarks shown by Australia’s public broadcaster ABC, Albanese — the first Australian leader to visit China in more than seven years — hailed the “unquestionably very positive” progress in ties.
Since the two leaders met in Indonesia last year, Albanese told Xi, “trade is flowing more freely to the benefit of both our countries.”
“We can of course today take up the opportunity to explore how we can have further cooperation between our two countries,” he said.
Albanese has previously acknowledged the need to remain “clear-eyed” about the differences between the two countries.
“We need to cooperate with China where we can, disagree where we must, and engage in our national interest,” he told reporters Monday.
And China has bristled at Australia’s security pact with the United States and Britain, and rebuked its decision to purchase nuclear-powered submarines — widely seen as an effort to parry Chinese military might in the Asia-Pacific.