Australian PM Re-Boots Beijing Relations on China Trip

Australian PM Re-Boots Beijing Relations on China Trip
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

The Lede: Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese concluded his trip to China on Tuesday with the two countries pledging to improve economic, diplomatic, and trade relations, which had soured in recent years. This comes as security tensions remain high in the Indo-Pacific region, with Australia working closely with the U.S. on military cooperation to counter China. 

What We Know:

  • Albanese met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday and with Chinese Premier Li Qiang on his last day in the country. Albanese and Xi discussed the resumption of full trade relations. A joint statement from the two sides expresses agreement on resuming the annual leaders’ meeting and other bilateral dialogues, as well as increasing cooperation on climate change and trade. Notably, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a free trade agreement that China wishes to join, was discussed, but not mentioned in the joint statement. 
  • Albanese said he raised the issue of detained Australian writer Yang Hengjun, who has been held by China for more than four years.

The Background: This was the first visit to China by an Australian prime minister since 2016. The interim period during the tenure of the previous prime minister Scott Morrison was rife with disputes over trade, human rights, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the meeting between Xi and Albanese last November in Bali, Beijing has been lifting the trade barriers imposed on Australian exports including restrictions on hay, timber, and barley. China has also agreed to review its tariffs on Australian wine. In the security space, the West’s rapidly growing geopolitical concerns about China have led to increased cooperation between Australia, the U.K., and the U. S. under the AUKUS pact under which the U.S. has agreed to bolster Canberra’s nuclear submarine capabilities.

Likely Outcomes:

  • Australia is straddling a peculiar line of rapidly cozying up to China in economy and diplomacy while simultaneously working in full cooperation with the U.S. and other Western allies in countering Beijing in regional security matters. The country will likely hold tight to both sides of the coin and ride the benefits as long as it can. China may lean on the areas where it is on the same page as Australia in order to manage the tense security and military matters in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • The U.S. may view Australia’s relationship with China as an opportunity for leverage in various ways. On the one hand, positive relations between Canberra and Beijing may help temper areas where U.S. policies have placed restrictions. Washington may also find it appropriate for Australia to follow its lead on trade restrictions in critical metals and technologies. On the other hand, the U.S. will likely continue to bolster military cooperation, which China will not be pleased by. It remains to be seen where the U.S.-Australia security partnership may cross a red line for China.  


“Australia’s exporters across all industries welcome the return to this more mature approach since many found themselves being collateral damage for sometimes petty, short-term political agendas.” – Louise Edwards, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales

“While Canberra does not always follow Washington’s lead, its commitment to AUKUS and other related arrangements highlights military and political differences that restrict the Sino-Australian relationship.” – David Goodman, director of the China Studies Center at the University of Sydney

“Australia is a middle power. It’s not in Australia’s interest to pick a quarrel with China, a superpower and its largest trading partner. ‘Cooperate where we can and disagree where we must’ is the right mantra to approach the relationship…What has changed is the tone, and China got the message. That is why it welcomed Albo with a red carpet.” – Han Yang, a former Chinese diplomat

Good Reads:

Australia-China Tensions Ease as Albanese Ends Beijing Trip (Bloomberg)

China and Australia agree to mend ties. But will this impact security? (Japan Times)

Australia and China: Besties again? It’s complicated (Radio Free Asia)