China’s top diplomat meets Australian counterpart in Canberra

By Thomson Reuters Mar 19, 2024 | 5:40 PM

By Renju Jose

SYDNEY (Reuters) – China’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, met with his Australian counterpart Penny Wong in Canberra on Wednesday for talks which Australia said would include human rights, tariffs and regional security.

Australia and China, its largest trading partner, are rebuilding ties after a period of strained relations which hit a low in 2020 after Canberra called for an independent investigation into the origin of COVID-19.

Beijing responded by imposing tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Australian commodity imports, most of which have been lifted since a change of government in Canberra two years ago.

“I look forward to speaking frankly with you about Australians detained in China, human rights, maritime security and safety, as well as regional and international issues, such as the Pacific, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the conflict in the Middle East,” Wong said in her opening remarks reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“Dialogue enables us to manage our differences. We both know it does not eliminate them. Australia will always be Australia and China will always be China.”

Wang said through a translator that the common interests for China and Australia outweigh the differences, and that both countries must manage and rise above the differences.

The last time a Chinese foreign minister visited Australia was in 2017 and Wang’s visit signals a thaw in diplomatic ties.

Wang will also hold talks with former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, a prominent supporter of China who has criticised Australia’s AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine deal with the U.S., and hold a private meeting with 11 business, university and think tank representatives.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said the removal of Chinese tariffs on Australian wine – one of the commodities hit by import charges after 2020 – would be on the agenda. Beijing said this month its review was progressing well.

Canberra is calling on China to release Yang Hengjun, an Australian writer who was given a suspended death sentence by a Beijing court last month.

(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney; Editing by Stephen Coates)