Chinese envoy calls on new Australian government to restore bilateral ties

SYDNEY, June 24 (Reuters) – China’s ambassador said on Friday Australia had fired the “first shot” in deteriorating trade relations, but there was an opportunity to improve bilateral relations if the new government in Canberra was taking action.

China is Australia’s biggest trading partner and biggest customer for its iron ore, but relations have soured in recent years. China has imposed trade sanctions on Australian products in response to policies and decisions such as Australia’s call for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19 and its 5G network ban on Huawei. Read more

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who took office late last month, said China must lift its sanctions on Australian products to improve relations. His government has also expressed concern over China’s decision to enter into a security pact with the neighboring Solomon Islands. Read more

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Ambassador Xiao Qian said in a speech at the Institute of Australia-China Relations at the University of Technology Sydney that Australia was behind the breakdown in relations and called on the new government to act.

“The previous government in this country made certain policies and took certain actions that virtually stopped normal business cooperation and relations between Huawei and its Australian counterparts,” he said in response to a question.

“This could perhaps be described as the first blow that really damaged our normal business relationship.”

He disputed that China had imposed trade sanctions on Australian products and said it was a response to dumping complaints from Chinese companies or Chinese consumers expressing dissatisfaction with Australia.

As he spoke, demonstrators, some in street clothes, heckled him and held up signs about independence for Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

There was an “opportunity for a possible improvement in relations” with the new Australian government after the exchange of letters between the leaders of the two nations and a meeting between defense ministers on the sidelines of a conference in Singapore, said said Xiao.

“There are five major areas where it is important, at least in my opinion, for China and Australia to make joint efforts,” he said.

Australia should respect China’s socialist political system, stick to mutual benefit in economic matters with “favorable and fair” policies, be rational in security matters, cooperate with China in regional affairs and “properly manage differences,” he said.

The institute’s director, James Laurenceson, spoke about the treatment of two Australian journalists jailed in Beijing, including a former university student, as they await verdicts in national security trials.

Xiao said restrictions on the frequency of diplomatic contact between prisoners were caused by COVID-19 measures taken in China.

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Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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