SHANGHAI, China – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese vowed on Sunday to “work constructively” with China as the two countries seek to thaw icy relations.
Albanese was speaking at the opening of the China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai on the first full day of a high-profile state visit to his country’s biggest trading partner.
“Constructive economic engagement between countries helps to build relationships… that is why the government that I lead will continue to work constructively with China,” Albanese said in a speech.
The prime minister will spend four days in China, splitting his time between Shanghai and Beijing.
It is the first such visit by an Australian leader in seven years, with the two countries seeking to patch things up after a diplomatic spat that affected billions of dollars in trade.
Albanese’s administration has sought more amicable ties with China, while also pushing back against Beijing’s growing influence in the Pacific.
The prime minister on Sunday said the development of the Asia Pacific region was “the lens through which we see so much of the future”, and that “Australia’s relationship with China is a key part of all of this”.
He hailed a “mature relationship” between Beijing and Canberra, “energized by the complementary nature of our economies”.
China’s foreign ministry has said that Albanese would meet Chinese leaders and “have an in-depth exchange of views on bilateral issues as well as on international and regional issues of common concern”.
“A healthy and stable China-Australia relationship accords with the fundamental interests of both countries and peoples,” said ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.
The bonhomie is a stark shift in tone from three years ago, when bilateral ties were in a deep freeze.
China slapped punitive tariffs on a range of Australian commodities in 2020 after Canberra’s then-conservative government barred tech giant Huawei from 5G contracts and called for an investigation into the origins of Covid-19.
But under Albanese’s liberal administration, those tariffs have been lifted, and Beijing has also indicated it will abolish similar penalties on Australian wine.
Major trade fair
Albanese was among a handful of heads of state present at the opening of the CIIE, an event touted by Beijing as a platform for international economic cooperation, though foreign business groups have complained the deals it generates lack substance.
Organizers say more than 3,400 exhibitors will participate in the sixth annual CIIE, which runs until Friday and is the first edition of the fair to take place since China relaxed strict pandemic travel controls.
It also comes as foreign business confidence weakens in the world’s second-largest economy, with the US and European chambers of commerce warning in recent months that firms are increasingly looking to move investment away from China.
Premier Li Qiang told expo guests on Sunday that China was committed to opening up and increasing market access for international investors.
“China sincerely wishes to work with other countries to meet each other halfway and make mutual achievements on a grand stage of openness,” Li said at the opening of the expo.
But Carlo D’Andrea, vice president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, told reporters in Shanghai on Friday that “the CIIE in its current form is smoke and mirrors, and it has become a political show that is distinguished as a trade fair”.
He said EU Chamber members had complained of logistical difficulties and high costs to participate in the fair, while visitors were largely from government departments rather than potential buyers.
The percentage of EU Chamber members participating in the CIIE has fallen from 42 percent to 32 percent since the first year of the fair in 2018, according to survey results published by the group on Friday. — Agence France-Presse