Australia's Wong says China meeting a "first step" in stabilising relationship

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said a meeting with her Chinese counterpart was "a first step towards stabilising the relationship" but it would take time for Beijing to remove trade "blockages" on Australia.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met Wong on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Bali on Friday evening, the first meeting between foreign ministers of the major trading partners in three years.

"We both recognised it is a first step," Wong told reporters after the meeting.

She had raised the cases of detained Australian journalists Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun, and the "trade blockages" China has imposed on Australian products, she said.

"It remains the government's position that those trade blockages should be removed," she said.

China is Australia's largest trading partner and the biggest customer for its iron ore, but relations have deteriorated in recent years.

China imposed trade sanctions on Australian products ranging from coal to seafood and wine in response to policies and decisions such as Canberra's call for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19, its 5G network ban on Huawei, and foreign interference investigations.

Beijing has called for Australia to take "concrete actions" to restart the relationship.

"We are a government that has made certain decisions on the basis of our national interests and our national security and our sovereignty and we won't be resiling from those," Wong said.

It was in Australia's and China's interests for the relationship to be stabilised, however "that's going to take time," she added.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters ahead of the meeting on Friday that "a sound and steady China-Australia relationship is in the interests of both peoples".

"A steady and healthy political relationship is the prerequisite and guarantee for practical cooperation. There is no auto-pilot mode for improving China-Australia relations," he said at a regular briefing in Beijing.

The meeting between Australia and China in Bali comes days ahead of a Pacific islands leaders' meeting in Fiji. China's push to extend its security ties in the South Pacific, which is opposed by Australia, will be discussed at the meeting in Fiji.

The "frank" discussion with Wang also covered the security and stability of the region, Wong said.

On Friday, Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the Pacific region was in a period of strategic competition and China had become "more aggressive".

"Australia’s position is that we will continue to engage and co-operate, we want to co-operate with China where we can. But we will stand up for Australian values when we must," he told reporters in Sydney.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Sam Holmes, Peter Graff)