Albanese discusses delicate issues with Chinese premier, including avoiding future military incidents

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said he and Chinese Premier Li Qiang discussed improving military-to-military communications to avoid future incidents involving their armed forces in their wide-ranging meeting on Monday.

This follows an encounter last year in which Australian Navy divers were targeted with sonar and one this year when flares were dropped on an Australian Navy helicopter. Albanese had flagged beforehand that he would raise the encounters in his talks with Li.

Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, Albanese said he had already spoken with Defence Minister Richard Marles, who was in the talks, about taking this forward.

The PM did not give more specifics. “It literally came out of a meeting that was hours ago. That was part of the dialogue.”

The statement on the meeting’s outcomes said the leaders agreed to continue or expand engagement in, among other areas, “defence co-ordination dialogue”.

Among other contentious issues discussed were Chinese foreign interference in Australia and the situation of Australian national Yang Hengjun, incarcerated in China for alleged spying, which he denies.

Chinese officials block camera views of Cheng Lei

Earlier, when Albanese and Li were together at the signing of bilateral agreements, Chinese officials actively tried to block Australian journalist Cheng Lei – who was released from a lengthy detention in China last year – from being in camera view. The interference continued even after she moved seats.

Albanese told his news conference, which Cheng Lei (a Sky News presenter) attended, the two had exchanged smiles during the event but “I’m not aware of those issues”.

“It’s important that people be allowed to participate fully and that’s what should happen in this [parliament house] building or anywhere else in Australia.”

Opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson said it was “not credible” Albanese was not aware of what had happened. “We do not body block journalists from filming in our parliament house, and for Chinese officials to behave this way in our country shows disrespect for our parliament and our customs. And frankly, I think there should be an apology from the Chinese delegation for this behaviour,” Paterson said.

Li, who also met with Opposition leader Peter Dutton, did not give a news conference, or provide any other opportunity for media questions.

Pressed at his news conference on whether he had any more information about Yang, Albanese said it was “not appropriate to talk about an individual and their circumstances in terms of privacy”. (Yang’s supporters say he has waived privacy considerations.)

On Sunday Yang supporters said in a statement, “Yang’s medical conditions remain serious and unaddressed. There is no transparency and we have no grounds for confidence that he is receiving adequate medical treatment.”

Asked whether he trusted China’s leaders to do what they say they will do, Albanese said “I have had constructive discussions with Premier Li and those discussions have produced results. We’re not transactional in how we deal with that. We put forward our view and I must say that the premier also puts forward his view.”

Meanwhile the Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, says that as bilateral relations stabilise “mutual goodwill between the peoples of both countries is on the rise”.

It says this is according to the latest survey conducted by the Global Times Institute jointly with the Australians Studies Centre of Beijing Foreign Studies University.

The online survey, done in late May and early June, had samples of 1,200 in China and 1,075 in Australia.

“The Chinese respondents have reported a significant increase in their favorable perception of Australia. Compared to the last survey in 2022, the average goodwill score has risen by seven points to 69.2 in 2024, which is in alignment with the policy adjustment of the current Anthony Albanese government,” the Global Times article said.

“Similarly, the Australian respondents have shown an upward trend in their goodwill toward China. The survey reveals an average goodwill score of 40.9, slightly higher than the recent data from the Lowy Institute polls. The Lowy Institute data itself indicates a stabilisation and slight increase in positive sentiment toward China from 2022 to 2024, following a significant decline in 2019,” the article said.

The Lowy poll – released early this month – has a less positive take.

It says, “Despite political re-engagement between Australia and China over the past two years, public sentiment towards China remains very low.

"Only 17% of Australians say they trust China ‘somewhat’ or ‘a great deal’ to act responsibly in the world. This is steady from 2023 and a minor increase on 2022, when trust in China reached a record low (12%). However, it still stands in sharp contrast to just six years ago, when half (52%) of Australians trusted China.”

This article is republished from The Conversation. It was written by: Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.