Anthony Albanese to raise differences while stressing positives in talks with Chinese premier

Supporters of Yang Hengjun, the Australian citizen incarcerated in China, have urged Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to ask Chinese Premier Li Qiang to have the ailing author released “on medical parole” or otherwise transferred to Australia.

Ahead of the Albanese-Li meeting Monday in Canberra, Yang’s supporters said in a statement that his “medical conditions remain serious and unaddressed”.

Yang’s situation will be one of the contentious issues raised during a discussion between the leaders that is set to emphasise the positives in the relationship.

Li was feted on Sunday with a lunch at a winery near Adelaide attended by Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Trade Minister Don Farrell, and Agriculture Minister Murray Watt.

He also visited the Adelaide zoo, announcing the two Chinese pandas there, which have long been a major tourist attraction but are due to go home, will be replaced by another pair.

South Australia Premier Peter Malinauskas said the announcement was “a powerful gesture of the stabilisation of the Australia-China relationship”.


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On his arrival in Australia on Saturday, Li said in a statement released by the Chinese embassy that the China-Australia bilateral relationship was “back on track after a period of twists and turns”.

Albanese has flagged that in Monday’s talks he will raise issues causing difficulties between the two countries. These include recent incidents in which Australia’s military assets and personnel have been targeted with Chinese sonar and flares while they operated in international waters.

The Australian government is hoping the visit leads to the early lifting of restrictions on the export of Australian lobsters to China, although Farrell indicated he didn’t expect an immediate announcement. This is the last significant Australian product to face barriers arising from Chinese retaliation against the former Coalition government.

Farrell told Sky News that restrictions had been lifted on almost $20 billion worth of trade since the Albanese government came to office.

In Canberra on Monday, Li will attend a state lunch and will also meet Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.

After Canberra he will go to Western Australia, where he will visit a lithium processing plant.

At Monday’s lunch, Albanese will underline the importance of “ongoing dialogue” between the countries.

“Whatever the issue, it is always better if we deal direct with each other. And consistent, steady engagement helps build and maintain stability across our region,” the prime minister will say in remarks released ahead of delivery.

In their relations, Australia and China “must always be ready to engage with each other as mature nations.

"There is much that remains to be done, but it is clear that our nations are making progress in stabilising and rebuilding that crucial dialogue.”

While highlighting their common interests, Albanese will say, “We won’t always agree – and the points on which we disagree won’t simply disappear if we leave them in silence”.

“We share a responsibility to build and strengthen the foundation for talking through our differences and for building collaboration in areas where we do find mutual interest.

"Creating channels of dialogue and building understanding is how we make it possible for benefits to flow. Across business, trade and education. Climate and health. Culture and the arts.”

In their statement, Yang’s supporters said they had “no grounds for confidence that he is receiving adequate medical treatment”.

Earlier, Wong declined to discuss Yang’s medical condition, citing “privacy”.

Asked on the ABC whether she was aware he had been given appropriate medical treatment, wong said, “I’m obviously constrained for privacy reasons about what I’m going to say on a television interview.

"We will continue to advocate for Dr Yang wherever we are able, and we will continue to advocate, including for appropriate medical treatment.”

Yang’s supporters say he has waived privacy considerations.

Yang, who was born in China, is accused of spying, which he strongly denies. Earlier this year he was given the death penalty, although this would be commuted to life imprisonment after two years of good behaviour.

The Australian government has made repeated representations on his behalf, and said it was appalled at the February decision.

The statement from supporters said: “Dr Yang is innocent and his espionage conviction is spurious.

"Yang is an Australian political prisoner who has been sentenced to death because of his writings in support of individual freedoms, constitutional democracy and rule-of-law.

"Clearly, it is not possible to achieve a stable, respectful bilateral relationship with China while their officials are threatening to execute an Australian political prisoner, without any semblance of due legal process.”

There will be no opportunity for Australian journalists to ask Li questions during his visit.

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.