Australia and China to restart dialogue after 3-year hiatus

Australia and China will resume high-level government talks next week following a three-year hiatus, in a further step towards stabilising the relationship between the two nations.

The Australia-China High Level Dialogue will be held in Beijing on Thursday and serves as a platform for senior representatives from industry, government, academia and other areas to discuss issues ranging from trade and investment to regional and international security, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement on Saturday.

China’s former foreign minister Li Zhaoxing will co-chair and will lead the Chinese delegation, while former trade minister Craig Emerson will co-chair as head of the Australian delegation. Reflecting the bipartisan nature of the dialogue, former centre-right foreign minister Julie Bishop will also participate.

China’s former foreign minister Li Zhaoxing will lead the Chinese delegation for the dialogue. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

“This is the first time the Dialogue has been held since early 2020 and it represents another step towards increasing bilateral engagement and stabilising our relationship with China,” Wong said. “The resumption of the Dialogue was one of the outcomes of my meeting with China’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing in December.”

It is the latest sign that ties between Australia and its top trading partner are on the mend following the election of a centre-left Labor government in Canberra a little over a year ago. Beijing has lifted some restrictions on Australian goods and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been invited to visit.

“Since it was established, the Dialogue has been an opportunity to deepen mutual understanding with Chinese participants and to find common ground,” Emerson said. “I am proud to lead the Australian delegation and contribute to the Albanese government’s efforts to stabilise the relationship with China.”

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Ties between Australia and China began to deteriorate in 2017 amid growing concerns in Canberra over foreign interference in domestic politics, Australia’s decision to ban Chinese firms from taking part in the 5G phone network roll-out and other issues.

Tensions came to a head in April 2020 when then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19 in Wuhan, a move China saw as a challenge to its national sovereignty.

The National Foundation for Australia-China Relations and the Chinese People’s Institute for Foreign Affairs will co-host the dialogue.

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