Albanese tells Xi that Australia will stick to its values as he tries to mend China relations

Australian prime minister raised trade and human rights concerns at ‘very constructive’ meeting as Chinese president said improving ties was important for region

Anthony Albanese has told the Chinese president Australia will continue to assert its values and principles, but he’s made it clear his government wants to steady the fractured relationship with Beijing and move forward constructively.

Significant steps towards stabilising the relationship after years of open hostility and diplomatic rancour came on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Bali, with the first face-to-face meeting between Albanese and Xi Jinping.

Tuesday night’s conversation – which is the first between an Australian prime minister and a Chinese president since 2016 – follows months of careful diplomatic signalling on both sides.

During a conversation at the luxury Mulia Resort in Nusa Dua, Albanese raised Australia’s objections to damaging trade sanctions disrupting Australian exports and well as his concerns about the protracted detention of journalist Cheng Lei and the writer Yang Hengjun. He also urged the president to use his influence with the Russian president Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine.

According to a translation of Xi’s opening remarks, the Chinese president acknowledged the relationship had “run into some difficulties”. But he said improving the relationship was consistent with both countries national interest, and was also conducive to the “peaceful development of the region and the world”.

Xi said he had been watching Albanese’s observations about the state of the Australia-China relationship, and how he intended to conduct affairs on the global stage, since Labor’s election victory earlier this year.

China’s president noted Australia’s prime minister had “expressed multiple times that you would handle China-Australian relations in a mature manner”. Xi added: “I attach great importance to your opinion.”

Albanese told reporters after Tuesday’s meeting it was unrealistic for Australians to expect instant breakthroughs on the damaging trade dispute, or other matters of contention instantly. While profound differences and irritants remained, the prime minister characterised the opening conversation with Xi as “very constructive”.

The two countries have been inching towards a meeting at the G20 summit for months, and that precursor courtship accelerated at the recent Asean summit in Cambodia when Albanese had a conversation with the Chinese premier at a gala dinner in Phnom Penh on Saturday night.

Albanese’s bilateral in Bali with Xi spanned 32 minutes, and it follows a three-hour meeting on Monday evening between the Chinese president and the president of the United States, Joe Biden. Xi’s conversation with Biden was also the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders during the Biden presidency.

While Australia is focused on rebooting the China relationship during the November summit season – as well as pursuing other economic and foreign policy interests in Cambodia, Bail and, later this week, in Thailand – many G20 leaders have their eyes trained squarely on the illegal invasion of Ukraine.

The spectre of global conflict, and global economic headwinds intensified by an energy shock following Russia’s illegal invasion of its neighbour, hangs heavily over the G20 on Indonesia’s resort island.

Guardian Australia on Monday reported the tussle behind the scenes about how war in Ukraine will be referenced in the G20 summit communique. China and Russia are opposed to strong language. A leaked draft circulating on Monday suggests the dispute over wording between G20 countries will be resolved by a non-unanimous declaration.

The G20 summit opened on Tuesday with a stark plea from the host, the Indonesian president Joko Widodo, for nations to find common cause. Widodo told G20 peers they must not allow the world to fall into another cold war.

“We should not divide the world into parts,” Widodo said in his opening address. “We must not allow the world to fall into another cold war”.

“Let us show the world that we can be wise, assume responsibility and show leadership. Let us work, and let’s cooperate for the world”.

Widodo did not reference Ukraine explicitly, but told his peers the war needed to end, because “if the war does not end, it will be difficult for the world to move forward”.

Albanese has been a strident critic of Russia, and used his interventions during Monday’s G20 summit sessions to once again condemn the war.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed the summit virtually, and told the G20 that “now is the time” to end Russia’s “destructive war”.

Zelenskiy’s contribution was watched by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who is representing Vladimir Putin in Bali.


Katharine Murphy Political editor in Bali

The GuardianTramp

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