Australia and China have taken a first step towards mending their rocky diplomatic relationship following the first meeting between leaders from the two countries in more than five years.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali on Tuesday. The meeting, described as a major coup for the new Labor government, marked the end of a six-year diplomatic freeze and the start of better diplomatic relations between Australia and its most important trading partner.
"It was good to discuss our relationship with China’s President Xi Jinping today. It was a positive and constructive discussion," Mr Albanese tweeted. "We will cooperate where we can, disagree where we must, and engage in our national interest."
The PM shared a photo of the two leaders embraced in a customary handshake – but a subtle detail was not lost on some.
Hours earlier, a similar photo between Xi and US president Joe Biden prompted an "interesting" observation from Mexican politician and diplomat Jorge Guajardo.
He pointed out a rare anomaly when the pair met, with Xi standing on the right for the photo opportunity. Xi, almost without fail, makes sure to position himself on the left side of the handshake, allowing him to appear open, relaxed and arguably dominant in the pose, while the person on the right must cross their arm against their body, closing their posture.
"This is interesting," The BBC's China correspondent Stephen McDonell reacted to the revelation.
"The left spot makes the leader look better in the handshake shot. I hadn’t thought about it but it makes sense. You’re not covering your body with your arm and kinda twisting. Instead you’re open, relaxed, sorta dominant," he noted.
This is interesting. The left spot makes the leader look better in the handshake shot. I hadn’t thought about it but it makes sense. You’re not covering your body with your arm and kinda twisting. Instead you’re open, relaxed, sorta dominant. #China #US https://t.co/zg4rppDJ5e
— Stephen McDonell (@StephenMcDonell) November 14, 2022
This is why (check where Xi always stands for pictures). pic.twitter.com/SvwlnxFkg4
— Jorge Guajardo (@jorge_guajardo) November 14, 2022
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, body language expert Katia Loisel argued the deliberate tactic – which returned for the Albanese photo – is designed to force the other person into a more submissive stance.
"As a leader Xi uses several tactics to assert his dominance when shaking hands during meet and greets and photo opportunities. Choosing to stand on the left, his hand thrust out first, allows Xi to upset the balance of power," she said.
"By orientating his body to the left away from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Xi restricts Albanese’s movement and forces him into a submissive position. In contrast, this position allows Xi to project an air of confidence, standing in an open, unrestricted pose directly facing the camera."
It may sound over analytical, but when it comes to the actions of the Chinese leader on the world stage, everything is deeply choreographed. As renowned professor of international politics Jean-Pierre Lehmann has noted in the past, Xi's handshakes are "a gesture but also a symbol".
Leaders discussed trade sanctions, climate, detention of Australians, Taiwan and Russia
China's $20 billion trade sanctions on Australia, detention of Australian citizens and relationship with Russia were discussed at the 32-minute sit-down.
The pair also discussed climate change and Mr Albanese urged Mr Xi to maintain the status quo when it comes to Taiwan.
According to a handout from China's state media agency Xinhua, Xi raised the issue of Chinese investment in Australia, hoping the Albanese government will provide a sound business environment for Chinese enterprises to invest and operate in Australia.
Mr Albanese said both leaders spoke honestly with each other about these issues.
"We have big differences to manage, but we're always going to be better off when we have dialogue and are able to talk constructively and respectfully, but also honestly, about what those differences are," he told reporters in Bali.
"(Australia) will cooperate where we can, disagree where we must and act in the national interest."
The prime minister said he urged the president to exercise China's influence on Russia in relation to the war in Ukraine.
But he said it would have been unrealistic to assume there would be solutions to the challenges in the Australia-China relationship in one meeting.
Xi takes subtle swipe at Scott Morrison
Former prime minister Scott Morrison took an antagonistic approach towards China, at times using incendiary rhetoric, calling out China during his term in government. The new Labor government has taken a decidedly more diplomatic tack.
In the wake of their meeting, Xi called Mr Albanese "mature" in what has been widely interpreted as a swipe at Mr Morrison.
Mr Albanese described the meeting as a first step to moving forward but there were many more to go and there would be further meetings in future.
"It was a warm discussion ... I put (Australia's) position, clearly, firmly, but politely," he said.
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Xi said he did not want to see difficulties in the China-Australia relationship.
"China and Australia are both important countries in the Asia Pacific region," he said.
"We should improve, maintain and develop our relationship as it is consistent with the fundamental interests of both countries' people."
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