Anthony Albanese signals to China that Australia is open for dialogue without ‘preconditions’

Australian prime minister says it ‘would be positive’ if he and Xi Jinping met at Asean summit

Anthony Albanese has sent a clear public signal to the Chinese leadership that Australia is open for dialogue during international summits over the coming days, saying he is prepared to meet his counterpart without “preconditions” .

With the US president, Joe Biden, set to meet the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, at the G20 summit in Bali on Monday, Australia’s prime minister told reporters at the Asean-Australia summit in Cambodia on Saturday a conversation was “not locked in at this point” and he was awaiting “finalisation of any meeting”.

Albanese was expected to attend a gala dinner at the summit on Saturday night, and the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, was to be present, as well as Biden and a host of other world leaders.

Australia’s prime minister noted that Canberra and Beijing’s foreign affairs and defence ministers had already met despite significant irritants in the bilateral relationship as part of a cautious diplomatic thaw following Labor’s election victory in May.

“If the leaders of our respective countries have a meeting, that would be positive,” the prime minister said. Albanese noted it was “the nature of these events that meetings get locked in at the last minute”.

The prime minister welcomed the looming conversation between Biden and Xi. “Out of dialogue comes understanding, and we need more, not less, in today’s uncertain world,” Albanese told reporters in Phnom Penh.

He noted the context for Monday’s meeting between Biden and Xi was rising strategic competition in the region. Escalating great power competition, a faltering global economy, galloping inflation and the Russian invasion of Ukraine forms the backdrop of the summits over the next week.

Albanese opened his summit season program on Saturday with a bilateral meeting with the Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba. The Ukrainian minister had been invited to the Cambodian capital by the prime minister, Hun Sen. Russia’s foreign affairs minister is in Phnom Penh and was to attend Saturday night’s dinner.

Albanese also met the summit host, and the prime ministers of Vietnam and Laos, and had an informal conversation, known in summit parlance as a “pull aside” with the prime minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida. Albanese confirmed he would “have a chat” with Biden before he left Cambodia.

In his opening remarks at the Asean-Australia summit, Albanese revealed Labor will appoint a new special envoy to south-east Asia, the former Macquarie Bank boss and company director Nicholas Moore, to drive what the prime minister has characterised as a “comprehensive south-east Asia economic strategy” between now and 2040.

Intensifying the diplomatic courtship of the region that the government has been focused on since winning the election in May, Albanese used Saturday’s address to underscore Australia’s commitment to Asean partners and to regional values, which he characterised as “the cherished ideals of peace, freedom, social justice and economic wellbeing”.

In a clear reference to China’s aggression in the region, Australia’s prime minister said the challenge was to uphold those values in a “complex and changing world”. Albanese said Australia remained committed to a rules based regional order with Asean partners at the centre of that peace and security.

“Working in close consultation, we can forge a more secure and sustainable future,” the prime minister said. “Where international law and norms are upheld, and disputes are resolved amicably through diplomacy and dialogue.

“With confidence in our cause, let us affirm the great founding vision of this institution, and carry it forward into a new era of peace and possibility”.

Myanmar is a significant issue at the Asean summit. Asean leaders on Friday warned the military junta to implement a peace plan or risk being ejected from summit dialogues. A joint statement called for “concrete, practical and measurable indicators with a specific timeline”.

Albanese was asked whether Australia needed to implement sanctions against the regime. The prime minister said Australia had taken a range of actions.

The prime minister also welcomed statements of support from Vietnam and Cambodia about Sean Turnell. Turnell, an economist at Sydney’s Macquarie University, who had served as an adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested when her elected government was ousted by the army on 1 February 2021.


Katharine Murphy Political editor in Phnom Penh

The GuardianTramp

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