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Australian Foreign Minister Heads to Beijing in Breakthrough Diplomatic Visit

FILE - Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong in Wellington, New Zealand, June 16, 2022.
FILE - Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong in Wellington, New Zealand, June 16, 2022.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong flies to China on Tuesday, signaling an improvement in bilateral relations.

There has been friction between Beijing and Canberra over various geopolitical issues and the origin of COVID-19. There have also been disagreements over democracy in Hong Kong, human rights in China’s Xinjiang province and Taiwan.

In response, China imposed restrictions on a range of Australian commodities, including wine and barley. Beijing was accused of economic coercion, while claims of “anti-China hysteria” were made against Australia.

Foreign Affairs Minister Wong’s trip to Beijing this week is a sign that tensions are easing. She will meet her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi; the visit will coincide with the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in a statement Monday that while Australia sought stability and cooperation with China — its biggest trading partner — there would also be disagreements.

William Stoltz, the policy director at the National Security College at the Australian National University, told VOA Monday that Canberra would be seeking an honest, yet robust relationship with Beijing.

“There are going to be things that Australia, the United States and other liberal democracies simply will not be able to agree with China on,” Stoltz said. “But that need not consume the entirety of the relationship.”

He added that if Australia is “clear and calm and deliberate in saying to the Chinese these are the things that we can work with you on and these are the things that we cannot, then that at least is a basis for tensions to stay below a certain threshold and for a constructive relationship to exist.”

In May, Australia elected a center-left Labor government. It has been looking to mend ties with the country’s most important trading partner.

In November, Albanese met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.

The last time an Australian minister traveled to China was when former Trade Minister Simon Birmingham visited in November 2019.

Foreign Affairs Minister Wong said Tuesday that her trip to Beijing would not immediately resolve issues between the two countries but that she would push for the lifting of trade sanctions and the release of Australian citizens detained in Beijing.