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Rebound in Australia, China ties threatened by suspended death sentence for Aus writer

Illustration shows printed Chinese and Australian flags

SYDNEY (Reuters) -A Beijing court on Monday handed Australian writer Yang Hengjun a suspended death sentence, threatening a recent rebound in bilateral ties that followed several years of strained relations between Beijing and Canberra.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in November was the first Australian leader to visit China in seven years, hoping to improve relations between the major trading partners even as issues from human rights to tensions in the South China Sea continued to cast a pal over ties.

Following is a timeline of relations between Australia and China over recent years.

Nov. 17, 2014 - Australia sealed a landmark free trade agreement with top trade partner China, concluding a decade of negotiations. It comes into effect in late 2015.

Dec. 5, 2017 - Australia, concerned about Chinese influence, announces ban on foreign political donations to prevent external interference in its politics.

Aug. 23, 2018 - Australia bans Huawei Technologies Co Ltd from supplying equipment for its planned 5G broadband network, citing national security regulations.

April 2020 - Australia seeks support for an international inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. China's then ambassador to Australia says that in response to the call, the Chinese public would boycott Australian wine, beef and tourism.

June 9, 2020 - China urges students going overseas to think carefully before choosing Australia, citing racist incidents, threatening a $27.5 billion market for educating foreign students.

August 2020 - Australian citizen Cheng Lei, a business anchor for Chinese state television in Beijing, is detained.

Nov. 27, 2020 - China will impose temporary anti-dumping tariffs on Australian wine, China announces. Shipments of Australian live lobsters, timber and barley are also blocked or restricted around this time. China's embassy lists 14 grievances with Australia, including the blocking of 10 Chinese investments on national security grounds.

May 22, 2022 - Australia's Labor Party, led by Albanese, ends almost a decade of conservative rule with a general election victory.

Nov. 15, 2022 - Albanese meets President Xi Jinping on sidelines of G20 in Indonesia, first leaders' meeting since 2016.

Jan. 3, 2023 - China allows three government-backed utilities and its top steelmaker to resume coal imports from Australia.

Aug. 5, 2023 - China ends 80.5% tariffs on Australian barley.

Oct. 11, 2023 - China releases Australian journalist Cheng Lei after three years in a Beijing prison on national security charges.

Oct. 22, 2023 - China agrees to review dumping tariffs of 218% on Australian wine, potentially clearing way for the resumption of imports. Australia pauses WTO complaint.

Nov. 6-7, 2023 - Australian PM Albanese tells Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li in Beijing that a strong relationship between the two countries was "beneficial into the future". Xi says stable bilateral ties served each other's interests and both countries should expand their cooperation.

Dec. 17, 2023 - Australia's government says it was confident punitive tariffs on Australian wine introduced by China in 2021 would be lifted early 2024.

Jan. 18, 2024 - Australia rejects comments by China's ambassador seeking to deflect blame from China's navy for the injury of Australian military divers in an incident near Japan in November.

Feb. 5, 2024 - A Beijing court hands Australian writer Yang Hengjun a suspended death sentence, five years after he was first detained in China and three years after a closed-door trial on espionage charges.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham and Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Gerry Doyle)