Political talks to begin as China’s Premier Li meets PM

China supporters and protesters in Canberra on Sunday.

China supporters and protesters in Canberra on Sunday. Photo: AAP

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will say Australia won’t be silent on disputes with Beijing as he hosts the Chinese premier for a state visit to Canberra.

Albanese is seeking to get rid of lingering trade impediments and push Premier Li Qiang on security and human rights concerns.

Qiang declared that ties were “back on track” after “twists and turns” when he arrived at the weekend – welcome news to lobster fisheries and the remaining beef producers under restrictions.

The second-most powerful leader in Beijing will hold talks with Albanese on Monday as part of an annual leaders’ meeting in the capital, followed by a state lunch with politicians, business representatives and community leaders.

A trip to Australia’s resource powerhouse Western Australia will make up the latter part of the visit, which comes amid clouds over the two countries’ broader relationship even as many trade restrictions have been removed.

Albanese will reportedly say in a speech at a Parliament House function on Monday that relations between the two countries were improving.

Without highlighting any specific issues, Albanese will say Australia would still speak up on matters, reports the ABC.

“There is much that remains to be done, but it is clear that our nations are making progress in stabilising and rebuilding that crucial dialogue,” he is expected to say.

“We won’t always agree – and the points on which we disagree won’t simply disappear if we leave them in silence.”

China imposed sanctions on $20 billion of Australian products in 2020 after the former Coalition government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Li’s visit is the first by a Chinese premier to Australia in seven years and comes after a period of turbulence for the country’s biggest trading partner, while recent military incidents in international waters have threatened the diplomatic thaw.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Sunday Canberra would press Australian interests forcefully, after she was asked if she would raise the case of Australian writer Yang Hengjun, who languishes ill in a Chinese jail.

The remaining trade bans are expected to be lifted within weeks but exporters could well ask if they might face them again.

“Then the question becomes how long can we be confident that we will have trade restriction-free exports going into China,” said Dr Benjamin Herscovitch, a research fellow at the Australian National University’s school of regulation and global governance.

“It’s always possible that Beijing, if there’s some kind of serious infraction in Beijing’s mind, could throw down the hammer on Australian exporters once again,” he said on ABC Saturday Extra.

“The battle here is going to be one of a whole host of specific granular policy areas where Beijing is trying to inch forward and get additional concessions from Canberra.”

“Canberra will be trying to hold the line, not give Beijing too much but also not once again enrage Beijing and prompt Beijing to impose trade restrictions once again.”

Canberra has taken a tough stance on technology co-operation since Huawei, the Chinese-owned telecoms behemoth, was excluded from rolling out the national 5G network because of security concerns.

“Canberra is saying, look we want the trade restrictions gone and we want high-level diplomacy restored but we are not interested in deeper science and technology co-operation because we see that potentially from an Australian point of view as a security threat,” Herscovitch said.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers recently ordered five Chinese-linked funds to cut their holding in rare earths mining company Northern Minerals.

Critical minerals are a key component of Albanese’s Future Made in Australia initiative, while there have long been global concerns about China’s control of a large part of the production.

Critical minerals are used in many ways in the energy transition – from wind turbines to batteries.

-with AAP

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