Anthony Albanese will meet the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, on the sidelines of the G20 summit, ending three years of diplomatic deep freeze between the two countries.
Australia’s prime minister confirmed the conversation would take place on Tuesday evening on the sidelines of the G20. It will follow a landmark meeting on Monday night between Joe Biden and the Chinese president – the first face-to-face talks between the two men during Biden’s presidency.
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.
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Albanese 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.
Australia’s prime minister confirmed his own meeting with Xi immediately after landing in Bali on Monday afternoon.
“We enter this discussion with goodwill,” Albanese told reporters.
“There are no preconditions on this discussion. I’m looking forward to having constructive dialogue. I’ve said since I became the prime minister, but before then as well, that dialogue is always a good thing. We need to talk in order to develop mutual understanding”.
The relationship between Australia and China remains full of irritants – from trade sanctions to profound differences about human rights and competing visions of what security and prosperity looks like in the Indo-Pacific – but Tuesday’s talks are the first step towards potentially toning down the rancour that has existed since 2019.
Albanese begins his G20 program
Albanese opened his G20 program on Monday with a bilateral meeting with the Indonesian president and summit host, Joko Widodo, before attending a business event later in the evening. The prime minister will also meet the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, over the coming days.
With world leaders converging on the summit, officials are attempting to wrangle a joint statement to be released at the conclusion of the G20 talks. Summit hosts Indonesia have made it clear they would like to land a joint statement rather than Widodo issuing his own chairman’s statement.
But there is contention behind the scenes about how a consensus summit statement would reference Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. European countries want to issue a strong rebuke but China and Russia refuse to countenance tough wording.
Officials are exploring the potential for a statement to be issued with a split paragraph, allowing condemnation by the majority of G20 countries and blander language from others. It seems probable that the differences will be unable to be bridged.
As well as managing the fallout from the European war, the G20 talks will canvas a number of pressing economic issues, including coordinated responses to the inflation challenge, the risk of hard landings in major economies, supply-side measures to counter the global supply shock, and debt relief for poorer countries now debt levels are being rendered unsustainable by rising interest rates.
There will also be discussion about a pandemic fund which is a joint initiative between the Biden administration and Widodo. Australia has pledged $50m to help get the international fund up and running. It will aim to assist countries with more effective pandemic preparedness.
Albanese’s bilateral program with Indonesia at the G20 is business focused because attracting more investment and expanding trade prospects is a central priority for Widodo.
When Albanese visited the country shortly after Labor’s election victory in May, he was accompanied by a substantial business delegation. There was also a follow-up visit by former Labor minister Greg Combet accompanied by representatives of Australian superannuation funds.
Gaining more access to the Indonesian market is a high priority for Australia given some trade with China has been disrupted by sanctions flowing from the protracted diplomatic stand-off between Beijing and Canberra.