China's FM Heads to Australia, New Zealand

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi waves as he arrives for a press conference during the second session of the 14th National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing on March 7, 2024. Photo by Pedro Pardo / AFP

Sydney, Australia -- China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi will next week visit Australia and New Zealand, officials said Thursday, with the diplomatic blitz expected to focus on easing trade.

Wang's visit to Australia, his first as foreign minister since 2017, comes as the two countries have begun to resolve simmering trade disputes, despite recent sparring over human rights and China's growing clout in the Pacific region.

"I think it is a good thing that Wang Yi is visiting," Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters Thursday, citing "significant progress" in removing trade impediments.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said Wang would also be visiting Wellington.

"We look forward to re-engaging with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and discussing the full breadth of the bilateral relationship, which is one of New Zealand's most important and complex."

China's top diplomat is scheduled to hold "strategic dialogue" talks with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong in Canberra on March 20.

"We seek to cooperate with China where we can, disagree where we must and engage in our national interest," Wong said in a statement.

Australia's trade relations with China have improved since Albanese's centre-left Labor Party won power in 2022, adopting a less confrontational tone than the previous conservative government.

China had imposed tariffs and trade barriers on key Australian exports in 2020, retaliating after Canberra barred Huawei from 5G contracts and then called for a probe into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beijing's foreign ministry said Wang's visits would be "a prelude to high-level exchanges between China and the two countries this year".

Wang "will have extensive and in-depth exchange of views with foreign ministers and leaders of the two countries on bilateral relations as well as international and regional issues", ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a press briefing.

"China looks forward to working with the two countries to implement the consensus reached by the two countries' leaders, strengthen strategic communication, enhance mutual trust, (and) deepen exchanges and cooperation."

- 'Outrage' -

Beijing has already unwound tariffs and restrictions on Australian coal, timber and barley, and it is expected to do the same for Australian wine.

Melbourne-based Treasury Wine Estates said this week it had been advised by Chinese and Australian authorities of Beijing's "interim draft determination" to remove the wine tariffs following a five-month review.

It expected a final decision "in the coming weeks".

Albanese made a breakthrough trip to Beijing in November 2023, hailing progress in ties as "unquestionably very positive".

The two countries remain at odds in strategic areas, however.

Last month, Australia's government said it had expressed its "outrage" after Beijing handed a suspended death sentence to Chinese-Australian dissident writer Yang Jun.

Wong warned at the time that such decisions would "have an impact" on the relationship.

Overseas, Australia and its allies are seeking to parry China's expanding reach in the South Pacific.

Canberra and Washington were jolted into action after Beijing signed a secretive security deal with Solomon Islands in 2022.

Australia also supports the US and Asian countries in opposing Beijing's sovereignty claims over the South China Sea.

If wine tariffs are removed, only Australian rock lobster, hay and beef from some abattoirs will remain subject to Chinese trade restrictions.

New Zealand has typically had a far less prickly relationship with Beijing, which is its largest trading partner.


© Agence France-Presse

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