China says relations with Australia back ‘on the right track’

0
224

Canberra, June 17 (AFP/APP):China hailed mended ties with Australia on Monday, saying relations were “on the right track” as the trading partners moved on from a bitter economic dispute despite a duel for influence in the Pacific.

                  Chinese Premier Li Qiang arrived to a grand ceremonial welcome at Parliament House in Canberra, before talks with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

                  The highest-ranking Chinese official to visit since 2017, Li said his trip to Australia demonstrated “that this relationship is on the right track of steady improvement and development”.

                  He also offered an olive branch granting Australian citizens limited visa-free access to China, a gesture limited to a relatively small number of nations in Beijing’s good books.

                  Despite the goodwill on show, both sides acknowledged lingering “differences” — a nod to diplomatic jostling in the Pacific and China’s ongoing detention of a dissident writer.

                  “We won’t always agree, and the points in which we disagree won’t simply disappear if we leave them in silence,” Albanese said.

                  Police beefed up security in a bid to head off trouble as Li arrived, standing in the middle of chanting human rights protesters and banner-waving pro-China groups.

                  Metal barriers were erected in front of parliament to keep the two sides apart.

                  A brass band played as Li inspected a military honour guard on the forecourt of Parliament House, the 19-gun artillery salute only briefly drowning out the noisy crowds gathered on the manicured lawns nearby.

                  One of the most pressing issues in Australia’s eyes is the plight of jailed dissident writer Yang Hengjun.

                  A dual Chinese-Australian citizen, Yang was handed a suspended death sentence in February after a Beijing court found him guilty on espionage charges seen by many as politically motivated.

                  Yang’s supporters penned a public letter on the eve of Li’s arrival in Canberra, urging Albanese to push for his immediate release to Australia.

                  “We in Australia oppose capital punishment and I reiterated our position there,” Albanese said after meeting with Li.

                  Australia has chastised China’s military in recent months for its “unacceptable” and “unsafe” behaviour in international skies and waters, and has called for restraint in the South China Sea.

                  Canberra has also become increasingly vocal in its criticisms of China’s efforts to accumulate influence with Pacific island nations.

                  “I certainly raised our interests in the Pacific, as well as other issues including human rights,” Albanese added.

                  “I did raise the issue of ensuring that foreign interference wasn’t acceptable.”

                  While regional security is likely to remain a sore point between Canberra and Beijing, relations are far warmer when it comes to trade.

                  “Mutual respect, seeking common ground while shelving differences and mutually beneficial cooperation” are key to the relationship, Li said at the outset of his Australian tour.