‘Ice thaws’: Penny Wong in China for talks

Penny Wong met Australian ambassador Graham Fletcher before talks with China's foreign minister.

Penny Wong met Australian ambassador Graham Fletcher before talks with China's foreign minister. Photo: AAP

Penny Wong has met with Australia’s ambassador to China as she prepares to break a four-year diplomatic freeze during a visit to Beijing.

The foreign minister met Graham Fletcher at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse ahead of a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

“The ice thaws but slowly,” Senator Wong said as the pair walked around the gardens, the temperature a brisk -6C.

Travelling media seized on the comment, asking the minister whether she was looking forward to “breaking the ice” with her Chinese counterpart.

Partially frozen ornamental man-made ponds and rivulets run throughout the more than 20 buildings of the compound in Beijing’s Haidian District.

The fenced-off compound is frequently used by the Chinese government to host visiting dignitaries, including world leaders.

Senator Wong has travelled to Beijing with a small Australian contingent including Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Jan Adams and half a dozen other officials.

She and Mr Fletcher made it clear Australia wanted to resume annual leaders’ meetings between Australia and China, plus annual talks between the treasurer, trade minister and their Chinese counterparts.

The resumption of those meetings has not been officially agreed to.

Senator Wong thanked the ambassador and embassy staff for their hard work in challenging circumstances.

“It’s been difficult period in the relationship and a difficult period because of all the COVID lock downs,” she said.

She then asked Mr Fletcher about an existing bilateral agreement between Australia and China, and how the nations could benefit from reinvigorated ties.

“A key part of it is what are you doing today, following the strategic dialogue with the foreign ministry with the annual leaders’ meeting for the prime minister,” Mr Fletcher replied.

“But another key element is the strategic economic dialogue, which brings the treasurer and the trade minister together with their counterparts here.

“Those three elements jointly let us cover the full spectrum of our interests here in the relationship which, as you know, are very broad.”

Senator Wong said the resumption of such talks would “provide an opportunity to have the discussion between those different ministers about the trade issues”.

Mr Fletcher replied: “It covers trade, it covers investment, it can cover economic issues of importance to both sides in terms of domestic policy. Those matters are certainly of interest to us, the way China’s economy is tracking.

“They’re interested in our experience and our economic story as well.”

Senator Wong’s trip featured on the front page of the China Daily paper with an article titled, Hopes expressed for Australia FM visit.

The state-run paper said China “expressed its hope” for ties with Australia to “return to the right track” and “develop in a sustainable manner”.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ming said China expected to take the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Australia as “an opportunity to strengthen dialogue and expand co-operation” while also “managing differences”.

“Bilateral ties had deteriorated for years due to a series of actions taken by the former Australian government, including offending China’s core interests, falsely accusing China of ‘infiltration’ and limiting Australia’s co-operation with China,” the China Daily article said.

The China Daily featured a commemorative lift out, including advertorials from Tourism Australia, the government of South Australia and Risen Energy.

The lift out featured stories on diplomatic relations, the opportunities for “mutual growth” in digital economy and infrastructure, and mining.

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