Australia ‘doesn’t respond to demands’, Anthony Albanese tells China

PM reacts to Beijing’s four-point advice on improving relations following high-level G20 meeting between the two countries

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Anthony Albanese has said Australia “doesn’t respond to demands”, after China listed four ways the relationship between the two countries could be improved.

“We respond to our own national interest,” Australia’s prime minister said on Monday.

His comments followed last week’s G20 meeting between Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, and her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.

After recent hostilities between the two countries, the meeting on the sidelines of the G20 was seen as a thaw – Wong called it a “first step towards stabilising the relationship”.

Wang said the “root cause” of the friction was the former Coalition government portraying his country as an “opponent” or a “threat”, but also offered some advice on improving relations.

“First, stick to regarding China as a partner rather than a rival. Second, stick to the way we get along with each other, which features seeking common ground while reserving differences. Third, stick to not targeting any third party or being controlled by any third party. Fourth, stick to building positive and pragmatic social foundations and public support,” he said.

Albanese said Australia will “cooperate with China where we can”.

“I want to build good relations with all countries, but we will stand up for Australia’s interests when we must,” he said.

Chinese state media used more specific and strident words than Wang, and blamed everything from the Aukus deal to the coronavirus on the Morrison government for a breakdown in China’s relationship with Australia.

China Daily, which is run by the ruling Communist party (CCP), called on the new Labor government to “jettison the antagonistic policies of its predecessor”, and said the Aukus deal with the US and the UK – with which Labor agrees – is part of the reason for the hostilities.

“It is Canberra’s participation in the US campaign to contain China by joining the Aukus and Quad [partnership with India, Japan and the US], blocking Chinese companies, technology and investment, weaponising human rights issues and politicising the novel coronavirus, that has put relations on ice,” its editorial said.

China never set Australia up as an “imaginary enemy”, China Daily said, strongly implying that this was what Australia had done to China.

The Global Times, which is owned by the CCP’s flagship newspaper, the People’s Daily, ran an opinion column that said the “reckless and provocative rhetoric” towards China had reduced under Albanese’s government.

However, the piece went on to say that politicians including Albanese and Wong could not “avoid being affected by Washington’s hostile attitude toward China”.

“Australia should be aware that it is the lack of rational judgment on China that has led to even more radical rhetoric than that from the US, and the freefall decline in China-Australia relations,” it said.

The government’s official news channel, Xinhua, reported that Wong and Wang had agreed to “remove obstacles”, a phrase at odds with the government’s position that it “does not respond to demands”.

When asked about that specific report and which obstacles Wong said would be removed, Albanese said he was “not in a position to listen to what the Chinese media says”.

“I’ll listen to what Penny Wong says about the meeting. It was a constructive meeting. It was just a step forward,” he said. “Australia has not changed our position on any issues. We’ll continue to be constructive.”

At a press conference after Friday’s meeting with Wang, Wong was asked if China had requested anything “concrete”.

“I think the Chinese position is well known and the issues of difference and different perspectives is well known, and obviously what was put to me reflected what we know China’s position to be,” she said.

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Earlier, Wong had said Australia “won’t be making any concessions when it comes to Australia’s national interests”.

Australia and China have been at odds over issues including China’s trade sanctions, its treatment of the Uyghur population, its detention of Australians, its belligerent actions in the South China Sea and its planned security deals in the Pacific. Since the election of the Albanese government, communication lines have reopened.

The defence minister, Richard Marles, met with his Chinese counterpart in June, the first such meeting in two years. On the weekend, Albanese said he would be willing to meet China’s president, Xi Jinping, if the opportunity arose.


Tory Shepherd

The GuardianTramp

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