The Business Council of Australia has hailed the Albanese government’s “tremendous reset” with China as a breakthrough meeting was planned for Tuesday between the Australian prime minister and the Chinese president on the sidelines of the G20.
The BCA’s chief executive, Jennifer Westacott, told journalists on Monday night that Labor’s “huge foreign policy reset” with Indonesia and Pacific countries, and the “tremendous reset announced today with China”, was creating opportunity “for business to come in behind … and start building those business-to-business relationships”.
The lavish public praise from Westacott, who was part of an Australian business delegation in Bali, came as the US president, Joe Biden, and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, met face-to-face for the first time in the Biden presidency.
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After their arrival in Bali for the G20, the two leaders greeted each other cordially during a landmark meeting on the sidelines of the summit, and posed, smiling, for a handshake.
In his opening remarks, Biden said the US and China had a responsibility to manage their differences. Xi said there was a need to “elevate” and “properly handle” the relationship because the world had reached a crossroads.
A White House readout issued after the three-and-a-half hour meeting said Biden had told Xi the US intended to “compete vigorously” with China, but that competition “should not veer into conflict”. Biden said it would be up to both leaders to “manage the competition responsibly and maintain open lines of communication”.
With Taiwan a major flashpoint, Biden told Xi “our one China policy has not changed, the United States opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo by either side, and the world has an interest in the maintenance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.
Biden expressed objections to China’s “coercive and increasingly aggressive actions towards Taiwan, which undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region, and jeopardise global prosperity”.
Addressing journalists in Bali after the meeting, Biden said he found Xi to be “direct and straightforward” and the two leaders were “very blunt with each other” over the course of Monday night’s conversation.
Biden said there “need not be a new cold war” between China and the US. The president said the US and China would not be able to solve every disagreement, but what needed to be minimised through regular dialogue was the potential for “misunderstandings about intentions or actions on each of our parts”.
Escalating great power competition is a significant backdrop to the G20 summit. Strategic competition has destabilised the equilibrium of the Indo-Pacific region, and has prompted the Australia government to conduct a highly visible diplomatic offensive in the region in an effort to curb China’s soft power courtship of Pacific countries.
While the great power leaders were attempting to reset their relationship on Monday night, Australia’s prime minister addressed a business forum at the G20. Earlier in the day, Albanese confirmed he would also meet the Chinese president, curtailing a three-year-long diplomatic freeze.
After his speech to business leaders in Bali, Albanese was asked to explicate his objectives with Tuesday’s reset. He told travelling reporters it was in the “mutual interest” of Australia and China to have an improvement in the relationship “and that’s what my objective is”.
Asked what would be the measure of success, the prime minister said “having the meeting is a successful outcome” because it had been several years since Australia and China had been able to maintain normal leader-to-leader dialogue.
Diplomatic signals had been pointing to the breakthrough meeting with Australia for the best part of a week. Albanese spoke to China’s premier, Li Keqiang, at a gala dinner in Phnom Penh on Saturday night and signalled subsequently he was happy to meet Xi in Bali “without preconditions” as part of efforts to stabilise the relationship.
Albanese then met Biden on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit for the best part of 40 minutes, with the two comparing notes about their respective strategies ahead of the G20 summit.
After the meeting between Albanese and Biden, the Chinese premier said on Monday through state media his country was ready to meet Australia “halfway” in recognition that the two countries this year marked 50 years of diplomatic recognition. Albanese confirmed he would meet China’s president shortly after that statement was made.
The prime minister declined to say on Monday night when the meeting had been locked in. But he said the timing of his public announcement on Monday had been coordinated with China.
Albanese intimated he would raise a number of sensitive issues that have inflamed tensions in the relationship, although he declined to nominate specifics ahead of Tuesday night’s conversation. “I will put Australia’s position on a range of issues and, of course, Australia’s positions … is very well known”.
Irritations in the relationship include trade sanctions on Australian exports, clashes over human rights, and a dispute over the detention of Australia journalist Cheng Lei.