China and Australia take steps to rebuild diplomatic ties

Both China and Australia have been working on getting relations back on track.

China and Australia take steps to rebuild diplomatic ties
Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese meets with China's President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 6, 2023. AAP Image/Lukas Coch via REUTERS

The backstory: China and Australia have a long trade relationship, with China being Australia’s largest commercial partner. But, in 2017, ties between the two started to fray when Canberra accused Beijing of messing with its politics. The following year, Australia banned products from Chinese tech giant Huawei from its developing 5G network, pointing to national security concerns. Then, after COVID turned into a global pandemic, the Australian government called for an inquiry into its origins, which made things even more tense. 

So, China cut down its Aussie imports and stepped up tariffs on Australian goods while also putting up unofficial trade restrictions. The nation also advised its students against studying in Australia. All of this hit Australia’s economy pretty hard, initially estimated to be costing the country around US$13 billion a year.

More recently: Both China and Australia have been working on getting relations back on track. When Anthony Albanese became the new prime minister of Australia last year, his administration took some steps to rebuild diplomacy. Defense ministers from both countries met during a conference in Singapore, and China’s ambassador to Australia made a new plan for improving ties. Last November, China’s President Xi and Albanese met for the first time in Bali, Indonesia. After that, China began lifting some trade restrictions to improve economic ties. The two have disagreements on issues like defense, but collaboration in other areas is still on the table. 

The development: Tensions between China and Australia are showing signs of easing. On Saturday, Albanese arrived for a three-day state visit to China, where he had a meeting with Xi. On Monday, Xi said that stable ties between China and Australia are working for both countries’ interests, and he said they should expand on these relations. Xi and Albanese spoke on bilateral trade and other things, like the importance of open communication. Of course, they also talked about the cuteness of both pandas and Tasmanian devils. Albanese is expected to meet with Chinese Premier Li Qiang before heading home on Tuesday. He also invited Xi to visit Australia.

Key comments:

“There will always be that nervous glance backward at this part of the relationship’s history,” said James Curran, a historian at the University of Sydney, referring to the past few years of heightened tensions. “It won’t be easily erased because what came with it was a whole other set of assumptions and fears.”

“The progress we have made in advancing our relationship over that time has been unquestionably very positive,” Australian Prime Minister Albanese said to Chinese President Xi in front of the media. “Trade is flowing more freely to the benefit of both countries.”

“Now, the China-Australia relationship has embarked on the right path of improvement and development – I’m heartened to see that,” Xi said.