Xi meets with Albanese in Beijing, calling PM visit 'opening future'
Published: Nov 06, 2023 10:58 PM
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 6, 2023. Photo: Xinhua

"Your visit can be described as carrying on the past and opening up the future," Chinese President Xi Jinping told visiting Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Beijing on Monday afternoon, citing the fact that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the trip made by Gough Whitlam, the first Australian leader to visit China.

As some commentators have said this is Albanese's "most important overseas trip yet," Chinese analysts believe the significance of his China visit cannot be overstated for Australia's future and for the Albanese administration, and they look forward to more wonderful interactions and visits between the two Asia-Pacific partners.

Thanks to the joint efforts of both sides, China and Australia have resumed exchanges in various fields and embarked on the right path of improving and developing relations, Xi said, noting that the two countries have no historical grievances or fundamental conflicts of interest, and can be partners of mutual trust and mutual achievement.

Xi told Albanese that the "small yard and high fence" mentality, "decoupling" or "de-risking" are essentially forms of protectionism, which runs counter to the laws of the market, the laws of science and technology development, and the trend of human society.

China pursues a win-win strategy of opening-up and comprehensively promotes the building of a strong country and national rejuvenation through Chinese-style modernization. This will bring unprecedented opportunities to Australia and other countries around the world, Xi said.

Xi called on China and Australia to enhance mutual understanding and trust through peaceful coexistence and achieve common development through mutually beneficial cooperation.

The two countries can expand cooperation in emerging areas such as climate change and green economy, and uphold the global and regional free trade system. Personnel exchanges, mutual understanding and amity between the two peoples, and cementing public support for good friendship between the two countries should be supported and enhanced, noted the Chinese leader.

He continued by saying that China is ready to carry out more trilateral and multi-party cooperation with Australia to support Pacific countries in enhancing development resilience, addressing climate change and other challenges, and maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region through openness and inclusiveness.

Albanese told Xi that over time, the progress in the relationship had been "unquestionably very positive" for both countries, according to Australian media outlet The Sydney Morning Herald.

"I believe that we can all benefit from a greater understanding of China," he said. "Where differences arise it is important that we have communication. From communication comes understanding."

Albanese said the leaders agreed that they would take the relationship forward after a tumultuous four years of hostility: "We have restarted a range of dialogues and the tempo of bilateral visits is increasing."

Highlighting that China is giving a high-profile reception to the Australian prime minister, which shows the significance China attaches to this partner, Chinese analysts expressed their expectations for the restoration of interrupted human rights and strategic dialogue mechanisms.

Separately on the same day, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said when meeting with his Australian counterpart Penny Wong, "Each time we meet and understand each other, it promotes the progress of improving China-Australia relations."

As Penny Wong celebrated her birthday on Monday during her China visit along with Albanese, Wang, also a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, told the Australian top diplomat that "Being able to celebrate your birthday in Beijing holds special significance, indicating that you have a connection with China."

End of icy period between two partners

The exchanges between Chinese and Australian leaders and senior officials put an end to years of diplomatic tension that had seen all ministerial contact cut off between Australia and its largest trading partner.

Years of estrangement over issues of the so-called human rights, national security and a campaign of economic coercion hyped by the US and some Australian politicians hit Australian businesses with $20 billion in trade strikes following the closure of borders at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, according to media reports.

Before the summit, Albanese, the first Australian leader to visit China in seven years, stopped by Beijing's Temple of Heaven on Monday as he followed in the footsteps of Whitlam, retracing a walk made five decades ago as diplomatic ties were being established.

"Since he visited the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, much has changed. But what is constant is that engagement between our two countries remains important," Albanese said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

This year, the two Asia-Pacific partners mark three important 50th anniversaries - the Whitlam administration's establishment of Australia's first embassy in China, the signing of the first trade agreement between the two countries, and Whitlam becoming the first Australian prime minister to visit China.

Albanese's visit pays homage to the forward-looking Labor political giant, taking over his diplomatic legacy to promote mutual understanding and mutual trust between China and Australia, said Chen Hong, director of the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University. He believes that at this critical historical juncture, both countries are ready to start a new page in the history of the bilateral relationship.

"The importance of the China trip cannot be overstated" given that China is Australia's largest trading partner, as well as the largest market for goods and services exports, Chen said.

Following a successful visit to the 2023 China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, Albanese told journalists earlier on Monday in Beijing that "the trade fair yesterday was a real highlight… What it shows is that trade is about Australian jobs.... A government has created, on our watch, over half a million jobs under our first half of the term, more jobs created in our first term already than any previous new government in Australia's history since Federation."

The Global Times on Monday learned from Queensland's delegation to the CIIE that Annastacia Palaszczuk, premier of the Australian state, stated that trade exchanges with China in Shanghai are "a valuable opportunity to advocate for Queensland in one of the largest markets in the world and explore new ways we can work together in the future." The premier led the largest trade mission in Queensland's history to China, with 100 industry representatives from the education, business, resources, agriculture and tourism sectors. China is Queensland's largest goods export market, valued at $23.7 billion.  

Albanese's visit along with the largest Australian delegation to China is indeed the "most crucial one in terms of Australia's future," Yu Lei, professor at Shandong University, told the Global Times on Monday.

It is a consensus among Australia's political, business, and academic circles that Australia cannot decouple from China, Yu said, citing the fact that China has long been Australia's largest trading partner, export market and source of imports. "Without China, Australia would have a trade deficit every year," Yu said. He noted that China is also the most important source of industrial semi-finished products for Australia, and without these products, many manufacturing sectors in Australia would shrink or even collapse. 

These factors are all important reasons why the new Australian government hopes to restore normal economic and trade cooperation between the two countries. 

Staying away from politicizing, ideologizing, or securitizing the economic and trade relationship between the two countries is the most important way to avoid damage to economic and trade cooperation, Yu stressed.

Seeking more independence on China policy

However, the pressure and challenges at home and abroad should not be neglected by the Albanese administration, analysts warned, citing the recent remarks by US President Joe Biden, who advised Albanese during the latter's US trip just a week ago to trust China "but verify" during the attempted rapprochement between China and Australia.

In response, Albanese said on Monday in Beijing at a press conference that "I'm convinced that we're building a [China-Australia] relationship that's a constructive one, where we're able to talk with each other directly." The Australian leader said all the discussions with Chinese leader have been positive and respectful and Beijing "has never said anything to me that has not been done."

While hailing Albanese's response as being frank and sincere, Chen pointed out that Biden's remarks were tantamount to asking Albanese not to trust Beijing, and an attempt to sow discord. Chen condemned Biden's remark as interference in the foreign policy of Australia. He noted that Washington has violated normal international protocol as the superpower is not happy to see the improvement of China-Australia relations.

Ahead of visiting the US from October 23 to 26, Albanese had announced a visit to China, reflecting his intention to separate China-Australia economic and trade relations from the impact of China-US relations to make sure that China-Australia engagement can have greater certainty, said Zhou Fangyin, professor at the Guangdong Research Institute for International Strategies.

This showed that the Albanese administration tends to have more independence in diplomacy especially on its China policy, said Chen, who at the same time warned that the US will either set up obstacles or exert pressure on Canberra on China-related issues. 

Whether Australia can maintain a balance between China and the US is a test of Australia's diplomatic maturity, Yu noted.