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China Premier Li says Australia ties ‘back on track’ as he embarks on visit

During his four-day visit, Li Qiang is visiting Adelaide, the capital, Canberra, and mining state Western Australia.

China’s Premier Li Qiang waves as he arrives at Adelaide airport in Australia [Asanka Ratnayake/Pool via Reuters]Published On 15 Jun 202415 Jun 2024

Chinese Premier Li Qiang has said relations with Australia are “back on track” as he embarked on a four-day trip to the major trading partner.

His visit starting on Saturday is the first by a Chinese premier in seven years and is expected to pave the way for President Xi Jinping’s first trip to Australia since 2014.

Australia is “uniquely positioned to connect the West and the East” and stands as “an important force of economic globalisation and world multipolarity”, Li said at Adelaide’s airport, according to a statement from the Chinese embassy.

Bilateral relations are “back on track after a period of twists and turns”, Li said.

He was greeted on the Adelaide airport tarmac by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and South Australia Premier Peter Malinauskas.

Australia is the biggest supplier of iron ore to China, which has been an investor in Australian mining projects, though some recent Chinese investment in critical minerals has been blocked by Australia on national interest grounds.

China imposed trade restrictions on a slew of Australian agricultural and mineral products in 2020 during a diplomatic dispute that has largely eased since Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s government took power in 2022 and adopted a softer diplomatic approach to Beijing.

People wave flags as they await Li’s arrival in Adelaide [Asanka Ratnayake/Pool via Reuters]

During his four-day visit, Li will also visit a Chinese-controlled lithium processing plant in the Kwinana Beach industrial estate in Western Australia state, as well as Australia’s Parliament House in the national capital, Canberra.

He is also expected to visit a pair of pandas on loan from China to Adelaide’s zoo on Sunday. A lunch with wine exporters until recently shut out of the Chinese market will show trade ties have smoothed after the dispute that suspended 20 billion Australian dollars ($13bn) in Australian agriculture and mineral exports through last year.

“Mutual respect, seeking common ground while shelving differences and mutually beneficial cooperation” were key to growing China-Australia relations, Li said.

“A more mature, stable and fruitful comprehensive strategic partnership will be a treasure shared by the people of both countries,” Li said.

Li arrived in Australia from New Zealand, becoming the highest ranking Chinese official to visit either country since 2017.

China is the biggest trading partner of Australia and New Zealand, which are seeking to balance trade with regional security concerns over Chinese ambitions in the Pacific Islands.

In New Zealand, Li highlighted Chinese demand for the country’s agricultural products. On Saturday, he visited major dairy exporter Fonterra after signing agreements with Prime Minister Christopher Luxon on trade and climate change, with human rights and foreign interference also on the agenda.

Before leaving, Li told an audience in the city of Auckland that his country was committed to creating a first-class business environment and supporting foreign enterprises to develop in China, according to Chinese state media.

Li also said there was vast potential for China and New Zealand to collaborate in areas such as green development and that Beijing welcomed New Zealand enterprises, such as dairy company Fonterra, that seized such opportunities, Xinhua news agency reported.

After the Australian leg of his travels ends on Tuesday, Li is scheduled to visit Malaysia.

Source: News Agencies