Anthony Albanese and Li Qiang
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Chinese Premier Li Qiang arrived to a ceremonial welcome. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

‘Differences shouldn’t define us’: PM wraps up in China

Tess Ikonomou November 7, 2023

Anthony Albanese’s visit to China has delivered the resumption of annual leaders’ meetings and a new visa deal to encourage closer ties between the two nations.

Mr Albanese arrived back at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Tuesday for a ceremonial welcome by Chinese Premier Li Qiang and a working lunch.

In a joint statement released after the meeting, three-to-five-year multi-entry visas were announced to make travel between the two nations easier.

Great Hall of the People guard of honour Beijing
 Anthony Albanese arrived at the Great Hall of the People to a military guard of honour. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

An annual leaders’ meeting will resume between Mr Li and Mr Albanese, with the last one taking place in 2019.

The yearly dialogue had collapsed after relations became strained under the previous Morrison government.

Speaking after the meeting, the prime minister said he had “very constructive” dialogue with Mr Li which helped stabilise the relationship.

“I would hope that there’s a recognition that this was a point where the relationship moved forward,” Mr Albanese said.

“Where dialogue occurred in a way that was respectful, where differences were able to be discussed in a way that didn’t define the whole relationship.”

China has hailed the trip as ushering in a new start for the decades that lie ahead, while marking the 50th anniversary of Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam’s landmark visit in 1973.

In light-hearted remarks at their meeting, Premier Li said people on Chinese social media had seen videos of Mr Albanese running along the Huangpu River in Shanghai.

“People were saying that ‘we have a handsome boy coming from Australia’,” he said.

Asked if he considered himself a “handsome boy”, Mr Albanese replied: “I think I’ll let that go to the keeper.”

Anthony Albanese meets with China’s President Xi Jinping
 Anthony Albanese described his meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping as “very successful”. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

Earlier in the day, Mr Albanese was greeted at the front of China’s seat of power by a military guard of honour.

Mr Li and the prime minister shook hands before walking into a grand hall while a military band played the national anthems of Australia and China.

Changan Avenue, the location of the Great Hall of the People, was lined with both Australian and Chinese flags.

The meeting with Mr Li concluded a three-day visit by the prime minister to stabilise the relationship after years of strained ties.

At the height of diplomatic tensions between the two nations in 2020, China imposed punitive trade sanctions on Australian exports worth $20 billion, and ministerial contact was frozen.

Mr Albanese last met with Mr Xi on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali in 2022.

The prime minister described his high-level talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping as “very successful,” with the meeting on Monday evening lasting more than an hour.

The Chinese leader cracked a rare smile and gave a warm handshake upon greeting the prime minister.

“A healthy and stable China relationship serves the common interests of our two countries and two peoples,” Mr Xi told the Australian delegation.

“Now the China-Australia relationship has embarked on the right path of improvement and development.”

The two leaders discussed a range of issues including trade, consular and human rights issues, Taiwan and regional stability.

Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, the China Daily, splashed with the meeting between Mr Albanese and Mr Xi.

It stressed the importance of Australia and China co-operating through “mutual understanding and trust”.

The issue of trade featured prominently in the coverage.

Only $2 billion worth of trade sanctions remain – on lobster and beef exports – with China reviewing tariffs on Australian wine under a five-month process.

Beijing is seeking to join a trans-Pacific trade bloc but hasn’t asked for Australia to back its application for entry into the 12-nation agreement.

The prime minister was invited back to China at a later date, and he extended an invitation to Mr Xi to visit Australia.

Mr Albanese flew out from Beijing on Tuesday afternoon and will land in the Cook Islands on Wednesday for the Pacific Islands Forum.

He said he will continue to have discussions with Beijing about security in the Indo-Pacific, as tensions and competition between the US and China rise.