Australia’s Albanese hopes to ask Xi to lift trade restrictions

Australian leader says he wants to develop relationship with China based on cooperation and the national interest.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at podium with Australian flags behind him
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has yet to meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping [File: Loren Elliott/Reuters]

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said he intends to ask Chinese President Xi Jinping to drop trade restrictions on billions of dollars of exports if the two leaders meet for the first time this month.

Speaking ahead of his departure for the East Asia Summit in Cambodia on Friday, Albanese said he will ask Xi to lift “counterproductive” tariffs and other trade measures if the two men meet during a slate of high-profile gatherings, including the G20 leaders’ summit in Bali, which begins on Tuesday.

“They’re not in Australia’s interests, of the wine industry, the meat industry and other industries where sanctions have been placed on. But it’s also not in the interests of China,” Albanese, whose centre-left Labor Party swept to power in May, said during an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Albanese, who replaced conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison, said a meeting with Xi was not yet “locked in” but he hoped to develop a relationship with China based on cooperation and the national interest, after years of troubled ties between the sides.

Albanese’s comments come amid expectations the Australian leader could meet Xi in the coming days, during the G20 summit or the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok. Xi is not expected to attend the East Asia Summit in Cambodia, where Albanese will meet with regional leaders before travelling to Indonesia and Thailand next week.

“With Xi’s centralisation of power, the diplomacy that has greatest potential for success is direct requests from foreign leaders to Xi,” James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, told Al Jazeera.

“Trade sanctions and the detained Australians will be at the top of Albanese’s list of key asks. I expect he’ll team those with messages that Australia’s policy on Taiwan remains the same and nor do we support the economic containment of China.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier this week told his Australian counterpart, Penny Wong, that their countries’ ties had recently seen “positive changes”, while calling on each side to address the other’s “legitimate concerns”, according to China’s foreign ministry.

China’s ambassador to Australia said in September the two leaders could potentially meet without conditions after the Labor Party’s election win had opened the door to “a possible reset of the relationship”.

No Australian leader has met with Xi since 2019, when Morrison spoke with the Chinese leader on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

While China is Australia’s biggest trade partner, relations between the counties have soured in recent years amid a raft of disputes related to the COVID-19 pandemic, national security and human rights issues.

Beijing has restricted billions of dollars of Australian exports, including beef, timber, sugar, lobster and wine, since 2020, when Morrison called for an independent international inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies