China’s President says his meeting with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Beijing marks a new start in the relationship that has been fraught for several years.
Xi Jinping shook Mr Albanese hand at the start of the bilateral talks on Monday, in the first visit by an Australian Prime Minister in seven years.
Mr Xi greeted Mr Albanese with a handshake at the start of the bilateral talks and said the relationship was now on the “right path”.
“With joint efforts of both sides we’ve been resuming our exchanges in various views and worked out some problems,” Mr Xi said.
“Now the China Australia relationship has embarked on the right path of improvement and development.”
Mr Albanese described said the occasion as “a historic time for me”, coming on the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam being the first Australian Prime Minister to officially visit China.
“(Since meeting a year ago) the progress we have made in advancing our relationship over that time has been unquestionably very positive,” Mr Albanese said
“I believe that we can all benefit from the greater understanding that comes from high level dialogue and people to people links and that a strong relationship between our two countries will be beneficial into the future.
“Where differences arise, it’s important that we have communication.”
Earlier in the day, Mr Albanese would not say whether he trusted China or if he would invite for Mr Xi to visit Australia.
But the Prime Minister insisted the relationship between the two world leaders was “positive” and the Chinese President had “never said anything to me that has not been done”.
“That is a positive way you have to start off dealing with people. But we recognise as well we come with different political systems, very different values arising from that and different histories” he told reporters in Beijing on Monday.
“But we deal with each other on face value.
“My job is to represent Australia’s national interests. He is the leader of a different nation with different interests.”
The comments come after Mr Albanese was warned against fully trusting China by US President Joe Biden while in Washington for a state visit.
The Prime Minister added there were “promising signs” of a further stabilisation in Australia's trading relationship with China after a number of punitive tariffs were removed.
“China is our most important trading partner. It represents more than 25 per cent of our exports and one in four of our jobs relies upon our trade,” he said.
“So it's an important relationship.”
Mr Albanese retraced history on Monday morning with a private tour of the Temple of Heaven – one of the first stops for Gough Whitlam on his official visit to Beijing in 1973.
He will then travel to the Great Hall of the People to meet with Chairman of the People’s Congress, Zhao Leji, and President Xi.
It marks the second time the pair has formally met after meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali.
Asked if he would return the favour and invite Mr Xi to Australia, Mr Albanese remained coy.
“I’m having a meeting this afternoon and I will report after the meeting about what we discussed,” he said.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who arrived in Beijing on Sunday evening, will attend the high-level talks alongside Mr Albanese before meeting with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.
Overnight in Shanghai, the Prime Minister left the door open to China’s future membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for trans-Pacific Partnership.
It came as Chinese Premier Li Qiang, opening the China International Import Expo, said China would “actively pursue” entry into the partnership.
Mr Albanese warned that China must demonstrate the highest possible trade standards if it were to join the bloc.
Opposition’s cyber security and countering foreign interference spokesman James Paterson said while Mr Albanese’s trip was an important step in stabilising the relationship but warned: “We have to be honest.”
Senator Paterson said China’s track record with trade needed to be kept at the forefront.
“In my view, it would be absurd to admit as a member of one of the highest standard agreements in the world a country which until recently had engaged in up to $20bn of economic sanctions against the bilateral free trade agreement,” he told ABC Radio.
“If the Chinese government is not able to abide by the standards it voluntarily agreed to enter into under the Australian free trade agreement, why should we expect that they will behave any differently in the future?”
The opposition’s foreign affairs spokesman, Simon Birmingham, echoed his colleague, saying there were “both short-term and long-term barriers” to China joining the CPTPP.
“The short-term one is that China has not acted in good faith with Australia on trade terms recently, so we would need to see a good period of good faith engagement before considering membership,” he told Sky News.
“And the second, longer-term problem is that China really has systemic barriers to being able to meet the high standards of the CPTPP, which include strong rules around how state-owned enterprises work in their economy, so you would need to see reform in China ahead of any membership being introduced.
Senator Paterson said it was his hope that Mr Albanese used his meeting with President Xi to canvas a range of issues, including the ongoing “unjustified sanctions” against the Australian economy.
“I think it’s important that the Prime Minister raises the full range of issues in the bilateral relationship with Xi Jinping, including the foreign interference and espionage in our democracy but also the ongoing detention of Australian citizen Dr Yang Hengjun,” he said.
Senator Paterson said China continued to “pose national security challenges” to Australia.
“I think they (China) certainly do pose national security challenges to Australia in terms of foreign interference and espionage, in terms of cyber attacks, in terms of intellectual property theft but also in terms of malign conduct that they’re engaging in the South China Sea,” he said.