China-Australia ties ‘on fast track to recovery’ as leaders agree to initiate, restart dialogues in 6 areas
Published: Dec 21, 2022 11:19 PM Updated: Dec 21, 2022 11:15 PM
China Australia Photo: VCG

China Australia Photo: VCG

Chinese President Xi Jinping told Australian leaders on Wednesday that China is ready to advance relations with Australia based on mutual respect and win-win principles as Australia’s top diplomat is paying an “ice-breaking” visit to China to fix the damaged ties. 

Experts said the two sides are expressing great sincerity to advance relations, so it is likely there will be a fast recovery in many fields including trade, mining, education, tourism, as well as new energy industries and “the blue economy” that eyes on the sea.

According to the Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday, Xi exchanged congratulations with Australian Governor-General David Hurley and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. On the same day, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Albanese also exchanged congratulatory messages.

Xi said he attaches great importance to the development of China-Australia relations, and is ready to work with the Australian side to take the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations as an opportunity, adhere to mutual respect, win-win principles, promote the sustainable development of the China-Australia comprehensive strategic partnership and continue to bring benefits for the two nations.

Hurley said this historic decision of 50 years ago paved the way for the bilateral relationship to develop, bringing growth and opportunity to both countries. Looking ahead, Australia remains committed to a stable and constructive relationship with China, guided by mutual respect and mutual benefit, and in keeping with their comprehensive strategic partnership.

For his part, Albanese said that it took courage and vision for the Labor Party government under then prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1972 to decide to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, adding that the right decision paved the way for a strong, enduring and mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries.

Albanese said he strongly believes that a stable Australia-China relationship is in the interests of both countries, and that he looks forward to continuing to work with China to further develop their comprehensive strategic partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit.

Chinese experts said that the congratulatory messages from the leaders of the two sides show that China and Australia share a common will to push the recovery of bilateral ties, and they also agree that a relationship without mutual respect is not sustainable and is also harmful, especially to the Australian side, so it is time to correct the mistake made by the former government and turn to a new page.

On Wednesday, Member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the visiting Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong that “in the past few years, China-Australia relations have encountered difficulties and setbacks, and this was not what we want to see, and the lessons should be learnt thoroughly.”

China and Australia have no historical grudges and conflicts about fundamental interests, and the two sides should and absolutely can become partners with mutual needs, Wang remarked. 

Wong said the new Australian government adheres to the one-China Principle and will not magnify differences between the two countries but manage them well to restore and develop communication and exchanges in all respects under the framework of the Australia-China comprehensive strategic partnership.

Chen Hong, director of the Australian Studies Center at East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that in the past few years, due to the mistakes made by the two administrations of Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morison, bilateral ties suffered serious damage. It was Canberra that picked the wrong path, so China-Australia relations entered a stage that was bad not only for the two sides, but also the whole region.

Zhou Fangyin, a research fellow at the Guangdong Institute for International Strategies, told the Global Times on Wednesday that different from the previous Liberal Party governments who almost abandoned the China-Australia comprehensive strategic partnership, the current Labor Party government clearly affirmed in the congratulatory message that Australia attaches great importance to the “comprehensive strategic partnership” and wishes to push it forward.

According to the joint statement of China-Australia Diplomatic and Strategic Dialogue, the two sides agreed to maintain high-level engagement, and to commence or restart dialogue in areas including bilateral relations, trade and economic issues, consular affairs, climate change, defense, as well as regional and international issues.

They also agreed to support people-to-people exchanges, including the 1.5 Track High-Level Dialogue, the Australia-China CEO Roundtable and visits by bilateral business delegations.

Experts said this has showed fruitful outcomes, which could be understood as a comprehensive reset of the bilateral relations.

Recovery and development

As business circles of the two countries expect, with the ice-breaking diplomatic activity, the recovery of China-Australia relations will bring many opportunities and benefits soon, and apart from traditional cooperation in fields like trade, tourism, mining and education, the two countries will also likely see new types of cooperation, experts said. 

Zhou said trade, tourism and the higher education industry could be in the first batch of fields benefiting from Wong’s ice-breaking visit. “China may lift the restrictions on some Australian products such as beer, wood and coal, and will also expand coal and agricultural product imports, as these products are needed in the Chinese market,” he said.

China will provide more convenience for cross-border personnel exchanges in light of current circumstances, said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning at a daily news briefing when answering a question regarding whether China has any plan to optimize quarantine measures for arrivals. Mao said that since the outbreak of COVID-19, China has taken a coordinated approach and pursued win-win cooperation in this regard.

Analysts said this will bring recovery to the industries that heavily rely on cross-border personnel exchanges and many countries around the globe are looking forward to such a change made by China. Australia, as a country geographically close to China that received huge numbers of tourists and students from China in the past, will be hungry for such opportunities and will pay great efforts to attract Chinese tourists and students.

China and Australia can also cooperate on some new areas such as the “green economy” and the “blue economy,” Chen said. Under the demands of carbon peaking and carbon neutrality, Australia is also putting in efforts to realize the low-carbon transition for its economy, so it desperately needs to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. 

China has very developed and advanced technologies and powerful manufacturing capabilities in new energy industries like solar power and wind power, and this will meet the demand from the Australian side, Chen told the Global Times.

The “blue economy” means economic activities related to the sea, and China has cooperation with the countries in the region such as New Zealand on maritime environmental protection and fisheries, and there is great potential for similar cooperation between China and Australia, Chen noted.  

On geo-political issues, Zhou said the two countries may also conduct joint projects in the South Pacific region. “Australian has been greatly concerned over China’s rising presence and influence among the island countries of the South Pacific. China, in the future, may take some actions such as strengthening communication and coordination with Australia to relieve Canberra’s anxiety,” Zhou said.