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China's Ambassador to Australia Says Differences Must Not 'Hijack' Bilateral Ties

FILE - China's ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian writes a note while attending the national memorial service of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra on Sept. 22, 2022.

China’s ambassador to Australia said in rare public comments that relations between the two nations have reached a period of “stability.”

Xiao Qian suggested the improving relationship might give Chinese companies more confidence to resume imports from Australia and that bans on coal shipments to China might be lifted.

China’s ambassador made the remarks Tuesday during a news conference in Canberra.

He told reporters that differences should not be allowed to “hijack” their relationship, saying the Chinese Year of the Rabbit was a chance to "jump over obstacles" that had emerged in recent times.

Geo-political and trade disputes have soured Australia’s relationship with China, its biggest trading partner, in recent years. Canberra’s call in 2020 for a global inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 was seen in Beijing as a criticism of its handling of the early days of the pandemic.

But Xiao said the election of a center-left government in Canberra last May was a turning point as Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has sought to rehabilitate bilateral ties.

Albanese has said previously that while there would be disagreements, Australia sought a stable, constructive relationship with China.

Xiao said China also seeks cooperation and stability.

“We do have differences in certain respects, disputes in certain areas like trade disputes,” Xiao admitted, “But both sides agree to address these differences in a constructive manner.”

He clarified that, “By that I mean we can address the differences in a way that will not allow the differences to hijack our relationship between the two countries (and) not allow them to hijack the cooperation between our two countries.”

Xiao outlined a key area of disagreement. He criticized the AUKUS defense pact between Australia and its traditional allies the United States and Great Britain. He told reporters that Australia's push for nuclear-powered submarines was “confrontational.”

The ambassador, however, declined to criticize Australia's mandatory COVID-19 tests for Chinese travelers, saying only that he hoped the measures were based on science.

Analysts have said that other governments in the Indo-Pacific region are skeptical of the apparent rapprochement between Australia and China.

Japan's ambassador to Canberra, Shingo Yamagami, told The Australian newspaper Monday that both Australia and Japan needed to remain "vigilant" as China continued to behave aggressively toward other countries in the region despite taking a softer public stance.