Australia’s recent change of government offers an “opportunity to reset” ties with China, but more should be done to repair the sides’ strained trade relations, China’s top envoy in the country has said.
Speaking to the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday, Chinese ambassador Xiao Qian said ties were at a “critical juncture” after the countries’ foreign ministers met last month for the first time in three years.
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“It is very important for both sides to keep the momentum and take actions for substantive progress and strive to bring our bilateral relations back on the right track,” Xiao said.
Xiao said that while China’s policy of “friendship and cooperation” remained unchanged, Australia could adopt a “pragmatic and positive policy” and “objective and rational perception” towards his country to improve ties.
“We can be partners in spite of our differences in political system and development stage,” he said.
Xiao also took aim at “misleading” and “negative” media coverage of China that he said had harmed the relationship between the countries’ peoples.
“It is simply difficult to find news about China that is positive,” he said.
Australian foreign minister Penny Wong met her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Bali, describing their talks as “first step towards stabilising the relationship”.
The meeting came after the centre-left Labor Party swept to power in May, ending nearly a decade of conservative governance in Australia that coincided with a sharp deterioration in relations with its largest trading partner.
China slapped tariffs and other trade restrictions on billions of dollars of Australian exports starting in 2020 after then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an international inquiry into the origins of COVID-19, marking the culmination of years of rising tensions over national security and human rights issues.
James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, said the envoy’s remarks did not signal any major breakthrough in the relationship or “specific issues like trade and consular cases”.
“The ambassador also delivered Beijing’s talking points around Taiwan, etc, just as you’d expect,” Laurenceson told Al Jazeera. “He preserved his reputation for being friendly, willing to show up and discuss issues and talking up Australia-China relations in general terms.”
Xiao on Wednesday also defended Beijing’s continuing military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, following United States House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week.
Xiao said there was “no room” for compromise on the “one China” policy and Beijing would not rule out other means to achieve “reunification” with the democratic, self-ruled island if peaceful efforts failed.
“As to what does it mean ‘all necessary means?’ You can use your imagination,” he said.