China thaw call: more positive energy please
China has called for the relationship with Australia to have “more positive energy and less negative energy” after the first visit by an Australian foreign minister to the Asian nation in almost three years.
In a meeting that signalled a major thawing of diplomatic tensions and paved the way for a visit to China by Scott Morrison, Australia and China agreed to work together in potential tri-lateral arrangements with South Pacific island nations
The high-level, two-hour meeting in Beijing last night between Foreign Minister Marise Payne and her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, was held a day after the Morrison government announced its intention to block on national security grounds a bid by a Hong Kong-based company for Australian critical infrastructure gas pipeline company APA.
After the meeting, Senator Payne said Australia and China would “walk together with the approach of mutual respect.”
Mr Wang said the ChinaAustralia relationship had had its “ups and downs” in recent times, but the two sides had agreed to work together for a more sustainable relationship.
Senator Payne said the two sides had “full and candid discussions” including the sensitive issue of China’s vocational
re-education camps of Uighur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang.
In a news conference at the Chinese state government guesthouse after the meeting, the foreign ministers both issued lengthy statements of determination to act with more goodwill to improve relations, although they did not announce any major new deals.
Senator Payne indicated that yesterday’s meeting could pave the way for a visit to China in the next few months by Scott Morrison. “Prime Minister Morrison … wants to work together to deepen our comprehensive strategic partnership (with China) and to build the personal relationships that underpin an effective comprehensive strategic partnership,” she said. “The personal relationships we can grow from strategic dialogue meetings like this and from bilateral annual leaders’ meetings. We look forward to doing that in the coming weeks and months.”
The last visit to China by an Australian prime minister was when Malcolm Turnbull went to the G20 meeting in Hangzhou in September 2016. The last Australian foreign minister to visit China was Julie Bishop in February the same year. China’s Premier Li Keqiang visited Australia in March last year.
Mr Wang said the meeting with Senator Payne had taken place after the new government of Australia, under Mr Morrison, had recognised that China’s development was “an opportunity rather than a threat”.
He said working together in the Pacific islands could be a new area of potential co-operation between Australia and China.
However, he said the China-Australia relationship needed to have “more positive energy and less negative energy”.
While the two sides did not spell out any details of potential co-operation in the South Pacific, Mr Wang said island nations were interested in working with both Australia and China.
The South Pacific Islands were independent “sovereign countries with their own foreign policies”, he said, and he and Senator Payne had agreed that Australia and China were “not competitors but co-operation partners” in the South Pacific.
Senator Payne said the opportunities for China and Australia to co-operate in Pacific island nations could include working with China’s newly established International Development agency.
She met the head of the agency, Wang Xiaotao, yesterday. The agency was set up this year to oversee Chinese international aid programs, including its Belt and Road Initiative.
“We think there are some powerful opportunities for us to share skills and experience (in the Pacific Islands),” Senator Payne said. Areas where China and Australia could work together in the Pacific islands “could include health projects”.
She said Australia welcomed Chinese investment in Australia but explained that the preliminary decision to block the takeover of pipeline group APA by Hong Kong’s CKI group was based on concern that too many critical assets such as energy and gas pipelines should not be held by any one foreign company.
Mr Wang said China welcomed the reaffirmation that Chinese investment was welcome in Australia, and that view would not be affected by a single decision.
Marise Payne and Chinese counterpart Wang Yi yesterday
Foreign Minister Marise Payne with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing yesterday