Chinese ambassador sends fresh positive signals amid strong appeal from Australia for cooperation
Published: Jan 11, 2023 12:05 AM
Photo taken on Feb. 26, 2022 shows Xiao Qian (R2), Chinese Ambassador to Australia, at a Lunar New Year Celebration at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.Photo:Xinhua

Photo taken on Feb. 26, 2022 shows Xiao Qian (R2), Chinese Ambassador to Australia, at a Lunar New Year Celebration at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.Photo:Xinhua

Chinese Ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian presented an upbeat tone over China-Australia ties in a New Year press conference on Tuesday, saying that "the relationship between China and Australia is at a critical stage of turnaround," suggesting that the two sides could seek to resolve trade differences through direct negotiation. 

Chinese observers said the fresh positive signals from the senior Chinese diplomat are in response to the strong appeal from many sectors in Australia to promote bilateral exchanges and cooperation. They believe that not only traditional cooperation, including international education, trade and tourism, but also new areas such as green energy and electric vehicles could see a recovery and boost in the New Year.

In a wide-ranging press conference at the Chinese Embassy in Canberra on Tuesday, Xiao was largely positive about the prospects of continuing the diplomatic thaw between the two countries this year, the Guardian reported.

The ambassador revealed that Chinese and Australian officials are in talks in Geneva about resolving their trade disputes, the report noted.

Recently, Bloomberg reported that China might allow some major state-backed utilities and one steelmaker to resume importing Australian steel later this year.

Xiao said there was "no such thing" as official sanctions on Australian exports. Instead, Xiao said Chinese companies may have hesitated to maintain their existing trade relationships as ties between Beijing and Canberra deteriorated.

"I personally believe that when we have a consistent improvement in the relationship that will give people more confidence that they can be rest assured they can continue to do their business relationship," he said.

In response to strong appeals from many sectors in Australia to promote the mutually beneficial cooperation, Xiao's press conference saw a healthy response in Australia, said Chen Hong, president of the Chinese Association of Australian Studies and director of the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University, noting that he noticed some Western reporters have given positive feedback on Twitter. 

Since the meeting between the two heads of state and the China visit by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, bilateral ties have entered a warming stage after several years of tension, and bilateral cooperation in many fields is expected to be boosted this year, Chen believes.

For example, the two sides have shared interests and complementarities in the new-energy sector. Australia has resources and China has advantages in mineral exploitation technologies, while both countries aim to cut carbon emissions, Chen said.

In an apparently encouraging sign of cooperation between the two nations in the new-energy sector, Chinese new-energy material giant Tianqi Lithium Corp has offered a deal of more than $90 million to buy Australian lithium developer Essential Metals (ESS), and experts expressed cautious optimism that Australian authorities will approve the deal, given the thaw in bilateral relations.

At the Tuesday press conference, Xiao also expressed his hope for the two countries to further explore cooperation in new areas, especially in the fields of green energy and electric vehicles. 

In response to foreign media reports saying that Beijing has notified Chinese companies to step up trade with Australia, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a regular press conference on Tuesday that the economies of China and Australia are highly complementary. We hope that Australia will work with China toward the goal of mutual benefit, rebuild mutual trust and bring bilateral relations back to the right track, Wang stressed.

In recent years, the business community, in particular, has been calling for China-Australia cooperation, and now spring is seemingly approaching.

Traditional cooperation in coal and other energy, aquaculture, fisheries and other blue economy fields, tourism and international education are also expected to welcome a recovery, Chen predicted.

However, a recent move by the Australian government against tourists from China has disappointed public in both countries. Starting on January 5, passengers leaving China will have to undertake a COVID-19 test within 48 hours of travel to Australia and show evidence of a negative result, media reported.

This discriminatory measure against China has triggered dissatisfaction from many sectors in Australia as this move could affect normal personnel exchanges and cooperation, Chen noted.

Paul Kelly, Australia's chief medical officer explicitly advised the Albanese government not to introduce mandatory COVID-19 testing on travelers from China before the measure was announced. In a letter dated December 31, 2022, Paul Kelly told Health Minister Mark Butler there was not a "sufficient public health rationale" for the move, the Australian media outlet ABC reported.

China again called on countries to base their COVID response measures on science, not to resort to political manipulation or discriminatory measures against China, and not to affect normal personnel exchanges and cooperation between countries, Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday's press conference.