Foreign Minister Penny Wong has sought to manage expectations around her trip to China, saying re-engaging with the country on a diplomatic level is the first step to stabilising the two countries’ relationship.
- Senator Wong has made it clear the trip will not resolve issues between the two countries overnight
- She says she will continue to advocate for lifting trade sanctions and the release of Australian detainees
- The Foreign Minister will only spend a single day in China
Senator Wong will fly to Beijing today in the first visit to China by an Australian minister since the country was put in the diplomatic deep freeze in 2019.
Before leaving, she made clear “hard issues” between the two countries, including trade sanctions and Australians detained in China, would not be resolved overnight.
“The prime minister has made it very clear we seek a stable relationship with China,” she said.
“As I have said in the past, this will take time but I do see this visit as another step in the road.
“We will co-operate where we can, we will disagree where we must and we will engage in our national interest.
“There has been a lot of speculation in the last 24 hours or more about what will happen. I will say this, the expectation should be that we will have a meeting, and that dialogue itself is essential to stabilising the relationship.”
The foreign minister said she would continue to advocate on behalf of Australian businesses to have trade sanctions lifted, and on behalf of detained Australians.
While the visit is officially to mark 50 years since the Whitlam government established diplomatic relations with China, Australia has several goals it is hoping to advance.
Australia will use the visit to continue to push for the release of two Australians detained in China, journalist Cheng Lei and writer and activist Yang Hengjun.
Australia’s opposition to trade punishments worth $20 billion — imposed by China after relations soured — will also be a priority topic when Senator Wong meets with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
But with the visit lasting a single day in China, the government does not expect major movement on either front.
Shift in China’s diplomatic strategy
While Senator Wong and Mr Wang met at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September, there has not been a visit by an Australian minister to China since then-trade minister Simon Birmingham’s in 2019.
Writing for the The Australian this morning, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Australia was “always going to be better off when we engage in dialogue” with China.
“When we talk to each other calmly, directly and in a spirit of respect. That was the basis for establishing our diplomatic relations in 1972,” he wrote.
Lowy Institute director of research Hervé Lemahieu said Senator Wong’s invitation to Beijing was part of a shift in strategy by China.
“I think it was increasingly feeling quite isolated and fallible on the world stage and therefore it’s toning down on its wolf warrior diplomacy and trying to signal that it is willing to re-engage with the world,” Mr Lemahieu said.
“That’s an opportunity Australia should seize.”