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Albanese to Raise Human Rights and Trade With Xi in First China Visit by Australian PM Since 2016

Anthony Albanese will raise human rights, trade and Australia’s concerns about the militarisation of the South China Sea when he meets Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday during the first visit to China by an Australian prime minister since 2016.

Albanese has signalled he intends to raise the plight of the Australian writer Yang Hengjun, who has been detained for more than four years in China. Ahead of his departure, the prime minister also called on the Chinese government to issue visas to Australian journalists, allowing them to report once again from the mainland.

Albanese will kick off his official program on Sunday in Shanghai at the sixth China International Import Expo before travelling to the Chinese capital to meet president Xi, premier Li Qiang and the chair of the National People’s Congress, Zhao Leji. Albanese will be hosted by the premier and will be received for his meetings with China’s leaders on Monday and Tuesday in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

The looming visit – one of the more important and delicate diplomatic forays of Albanese’s prime ministership – signals Australia has emerged from the diplomatic deep freeze. The visit is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first visit to China by then Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1973.

As a prelude to the trip, Australia has recently secured the release of the journalist Cheng Lei, and China has stepped back from punitive trade sanctions imposed at the height of the war of words with Canberra which began when the Chinese telco Huawei was barred from Australia’s 5G rollout in 2018 and intensified dramatically after Scott Morrison called for an independent inquiry into the origins of Covid-19 in 2020.

While a thaw is under way, Australian officials stress the bilateral relationship between Canberra and Beijing is not the same as it was in 2016.

One official told journalists the rapprochement that has unfolded over the past 12 months was not a “journey back to the future”. The intention was to stabilise a relationship that is “extremely important to Australia” while dealing with China in a manner consistent with regional stability and security.

Albanese said on Thursday that Australia wanted to look for areas “where we can cooperate when we can, and disagree where we must”. The prime minister said the Australia’s diplomatic strategy during the re-engagement with its most significant trading partner was “patient, calibrated and deliberate”.

Australia believes that during the visit China will request Australia’s support for it to join the big regional trade deal known as the CPTPP.

The Labor government – and the Coalition government before it – repeatedly stressed that the CPTPP had high standards and any new entrant would need to meet those high standards. This coded language meant China was unlikely to pass the test, particularly while trade sanctions against Australian export products remained in place.

Unsourced reports in recent months have indicated that the Australian government might be prepared to soften that position, although this has previously been denied.

Entry of a new member to the CPTPP – which now has 12 members, given the UK recently joined – requires unanimous support of existing members. If Australia were to drop any rhetorical opposition to China’s entry as a pragmatic step, it would still be unlikely to be approved given that Japan is strongly opposed to signing off on it.

Australia’s trade minister, Don Farrell, said after his meeting with China’s commerce minister, Wang Wentao, in May: “I reiterated that any economy that sought to accede to the CPTPP must have a demonstrated track record of complying with trade agreements. I also indicated that Australia would work with the CPTPP membership to consider all accession applications on a consensus basis.”

Australian officials say Australia’s current “focus” is on “bedding down” the CPTPP with its existing members. While not categorically ruling out a rethink, an official said Australia’s position on the matter remained “as has already been articulated”.

Albanese’s visit to China follows an official visit to Washington last week. The US president, Joe Biden, will also meet China’s president in coming weeks. Strategic competition between the US, Australia’s most important security partner, and China, its biggest trading partner, has destabilised the Indo-Pacific.

Albanese welcomed the looming meeting between Biden and Xi at the Apec conference. Dialogue between the superpowers was “a good thing”, Australia’s prime minister said.

Source : TheGuardian