Albanese looks to future beyond disagreement as China trip concludes

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has concluded a historic visit to China by opening a new chapter in the Australia-China relationship, one that might transcend the limits of disagreement.

Amid the grandeur of Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, the Prime Minister emerged from a meeting with his Chinese counterpart with an agreement to resume regular dialogue and a list of potential areas for future co-operation.

But after three years of Australia being disconnected entirely from its leading trading partner and the region’s rising power, the PM emphasised the significance of dialogue and looked to the future.

“This was the point where the relationship moved forward, where dialogue occurred in a way that was respectful, where differences were able to be discussed in a way that didn’t define the whole relationship,” Albanese said.

“I am committed to advocating Australia’s interests as we work to shape the decades ahead.”

The three-day visit concludes 18 months of diplomatic work towards a graceful de-escalation of tensions that peaked three years ago with more than $20 billion worth of trade sanctions that are now all but unwound.

The Prime Minister speaks to the media following a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: AAP

On the final day of his three-day trip, the PM was received with a military guard of honour and greeted by Chinese Premier Li Qiang.

The night before, President Xi Jinping broke into a rare grin as he clasped hands with the Prime Minister before a bilateral meeting at the Great Hall for more than an hour.

Xi said Beijing and Canberra had “worked out some problems,” referencing points of contention including human rights, Taiwan and trade.

Discussions culminated in an agreement to look for further co-operation in areas spanning trade, climate change, education and agriculture.

In an official communique, the leaders committed to navigating national differences “wisely”.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong joined the PM at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, visited by Gough Whitlam on his landmark trip to establish relations with China 50 years ago at the height of the Cold War.

Albanese said there was no doubt the trip had helped stabilise the relationship after the Foreign Minister led a “patient, deliberate (and) calibrated” diplomatic strategy.

Before the trip, Wong had said it was unlikely relations would return to previous highs.

But this week, she suggested it was returning to a position of balance.

“Before the election, we said to the Australian people we would work to stabilise the relationship with China without compromising our sovereign interests,” Wong said. “And that’s what we’ve done.”

Before the PM’s visit, China indicated its frosty relationship with Australia was beginning to thaw, lifting tariffs on barley in August and hinting at a softening on wine exports.

The Prime Minister is heading home via Rarotonga and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

The journey home might also be a reminder that the most challenging part of the government’s rebalancing act is yet to come.

China has been steadily consolidating its influence in the Pacific in recent years, making the PIF a significant arena for competition with Australia and a reminder of the challenging diplomatic terrain ahead.

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