China Li’s Australia Trip Is ‘Significant’, Chalmers Says

(Bloomberg) -- Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s visit to Australia is a “really significant step” for the two nations’ relationship, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said on Saturday.

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Li will land in Australia for a four-day trip on Saturday, heading to Adelaide, Canberra and Perth as part of the first visit by a Chinese premier since early 2017, when relations began to deteriorate.

This follows Li’s visit to New Zealand, where he pledged to strengthen economic ties with Wellington. Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said the two premiers had discussed issues such as foreign interference, the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

While the trip is the latest sign of warming relations between Australia and China, both countries are facing strategic and political tensions across a range of fronts, from strengthening security ties between Canberra and Washington to the global struggle over critical mineral supply chains.

Li’s visit “recognizes the key economic and broader relationship between Australia and China,” Chalmers said at a press conference in Queensland state. “We’re looking forward to engaging with Premier Li and his colleagues on this really important visit.”

Chalmers will also sign the Memorandum of Understanding on the Strategic Economic Dialogue with National Development and Reform Commission Vice Chairman Liu Sushe that was agreed last year.

“We believe that engagement is good for our people, it’s good for our economy and it’s good for our country more broadly, and that’s what this visit is all about,” Chalmers said. “We’ve made really encouraging progress stabilizing the relationship with China but in a way which is consistent with our values and our interests.”

When asked by a journalist if the Australian government will confront the Chinese prime minister on humanitarian issues, Chalmers said “we are prepared to speak up for those values and interests when that’s appropriate.”

“We don’t pretend that isn’t sometimes a difficult relationship to manage or a complex relationship to manage,” he said. “And so we disagree with the administration when we need to, we engage where we can and I think we’ve seen some of the fruits of that, certainly in terms of the economy over the last couple of years.”

(Adds Li’s NZ visit in third paragraph. A previous version of this story was corrected to clarify it’s the first visit by a Chinese premier in more than seven years.)

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