TAIWAN — Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese arrived in China on Saturday to kick off a four-day visit to the country, the first by an Australian leader since 2016.
“The fact that it is the first visit in seven years to our major trading partner is a very positive step, and I look forward to constructive discussions and dialogue with President Xi [Jinping] and the Premier Li [Qiang] during my visit,” Albanese said in Darwin, the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory.
Topping Albanese’s agenda is likely to be stabilizing bilateral trade relations that had soured but have recently improved: Beijing has lifted import restrictions on several Australian commodities, including coal, timber and barley, in recent months.
“We still have trade restrictions on Australian lobsters, Australian beef, and there’s still the expedited review of the duties on wine that is yet to play out,” said Benjamin Herscovitch, a research fellow at Australian National University.
He is referring to the news that China and Australia agreed to suspend a World Trade Organization wine dispute as Beijing undertakes “an expedited review of its duties,” which would last about five months. The Australian government said it’s “confident” of a successful outcome.
“I would expect that that issue will be top of mind for Prime Minister Albanese,” he told VOA by phone.
China likely to seek support, says expert
Trade tensions between China and Australia reached a high in 2020 after China imposed sanctions worth $12.7 billion on Australian products, including tariffs of between 116.2% and 218.4% on Australian wine.
Herscovitch said Beijing will likely push Canberra to support its bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, also known as the CPTPP.
“I imagine there’ll be discussions about the plan for removing China’s remaining trade restrictions, and once that discussion has taken place, the Chinese side will probably press the Australian side on backing China’s bid for CPTPP entry,” he told VOA.
“China will also be looking for progress when it comes to access for Chinese companies to the Australian critical minerals industry.”
Sensitive human rights issues
While stabilizing bilateral economic ties will be a priority, some experts think Albanese also will address the fundamental disagreements that Canberra and Beijing have on a list of contentious issues.
“There are other bilateral issues, including the arbitrary detention of Australian citizen Yang Hengjun, and a whole raft of regional security and larger issues that I don’t think Albanese can avoid,” Alex Bristow, deputy director of the Defense, Strategy and National Security Program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told VOA in a video interview.
Before Albanese revealed the date of his trip, Beijing on October 11 released Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who was detained in China for almost three years under espionage-related charges. Despite the news of Cheng’s release, Yang, a Chinese-Australian writer, has been in Chinese detention since 2019.
Feng Chongyi, an associate professor in China studies at the University of Technology Sydney and Yang’s doctoral adviser, told VOA by phone that Yang has a 10-centimeter cyst in his kidney. He worries that it could be a life-threatening situation for him as it’s unclear what type of physical examinations he might receive in detention.
In a letter to Albanese, which was shared with VOA, Yang’s family members urged the Australian prime minister and his Cabinet members to “achieve a second miracle” by saving Yang.
Some experts say Albanese and his Cabinet members have consistently advocated for Australian citizens detained by China and expressed concerns about human rights violations in China since they came to power. They think similar efforts will be incorporated into his trip to China.
“These concerns will be woven into Albanese’s visit to China,” Elena Collinson, manager of research analysis at the Australia-China Relations Institute, told VOA in a written response.
“Explicitly acknowledging areas of difference between Australia and China has been a recurring point in official interactions with Beijing,” she said. “The Albanese government is conscious that it would be swiftly held to domestic political account should it be seen as complicit through omission.”
Source : VOA News