Australian, Chinese foreign ministers to meet for first time in three years

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Australia and China’s foreign ministers will meet for the first time in three years, Beijing confirmed on Thursday, signaling a thaw in relations that soured over claims of foreign interference and retaliatory trade
sanctions.

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Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a briefing in Beijing that Australia was among the bilateral meetings Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will hold on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Bali.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong had earlier told reporters in Bali the new government in Canberra was “willing to engage” with China, but added it wanted the trade measures that China has taken against Australia to be lifted.

“We believe it would be in China and Australia’s interest for this relationship to be stabilized, and that would require both parties to make a step,” she said on Thursday.

The meeting between Australia and China in Bali comes days ahead of a Pacific islands leaders meeting in Fiji where China’s push to extend its security ties in the South Pacific, opposed by Australia, will be debated by 18 nations.

Australia is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum and will attend the meeting, but China will not. China’s Communist Party has proposed holding an alternative meeting with around half of the Pacific islands it holds diplomatic ties with.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner and the biggest customer for its iron ore, but relations have deteriorated in recent years.

China imposed trade sanctions on Australian products ranging from coal to seafood and wine 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.

The diplomatic relationship first cooled amid a noisy domestic political debate in Australia over foreign interference legislation that saw a Labor Senator resign after accepting donations from a Chinese businessman, who was later barred from Australia by intelligence agencies.

The case was cited by MI5 Director General Ken McCallum in a speech on Wednesday about Chinese intelligence activities.

China’s ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian said in a recent speech in Sydney there was an opportunity to improve ties if the new government in Canberra took action, after a meeting between defense ministers on the sidelines of a security conference.

The Albanese government, elected in May, has said there would be no change in policy, but Wong said on Wednesday the new government would be calm and disciplined in how it dealt with “challenges in the relationship” with China.

She called for the release of two Australian journalists detained in China and awaiting verdicts in national security cases.

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