CANBERRA – Australia’s new government has urged China to lift trade sanctions if it wants to reset a bilateral relationship that plumbed new depths under the previous administration.
The Chinese premier’s congratulatory letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on his election victory was widely seen as a relaxation of Beijing’s two-year ban on high-level government contact with Australia. Premier Li Keqiang said China was ready to work with Australia to development the bilateral relationship.
But Albanese said it was China, not Australia, that had changed since his center-left Labor Party was last in power in 2013.
China has created a series of official and unofficial trade barriers in recent years to a range of Australian exports worth billions of dollars including coal, wine, barley, beef and seafood.
“It is China that has placed sanctions on Australia,” Albanese told reporters Tuesday at a Tokyo summit that he attended with President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“There is no justification for doing that and that’s why they should be removed,” Albanese added.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers also called for China to immediately lift trade barriers between the free-trade partners.
“We would certainly like to see those sanctions and those tariffs lifted. They are damaging our economy. They are making life harder for some of our employers and workers here in Australia and so obviously we would like to see those measures lifted,” Chalmers said on Wednesday.
China has announced its Foreign Minister Wang Yi would soon visit the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor in a 10-day trip.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong was expected to fly to Fiji on Thursday, a day after returning to Sydney from Japan as the new government hastens to counter Chinese influence in the South Pacific, The Australian newspaper reported. Wong's office did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation.
Before Albanese and Wong boarded a plane to return to Australia from Tokyo, he thanked Australian voters who, in Saturday’s election, gave him the “extraordinary honor of representing Australia at important international forums.”
“I will always act with integrity. I will always act with honesty in my dealings with other leaders and our friends and partners,” Albanese said, in comments that could be aimed at his predecessor, Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
During a National Press Club speech last week, Albanese blamed Morrison for damaging relationships with other countries.
He said Morrison misled the United States that Labor supported a secret plan to provide Australia with a fleet of submarines powered with U.S. nuclear technology. In fact, Albanese's party wasn’t told of the plan until the day before it was announced in September.
Albanese also accused Morrison of leaking to the media personal text messages from Emmanuel Macron to discredit the French president’s complaint that Australia had given no warning that a French submarine contract would be canceled. Macron also accused Morrison of lying to him, and French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault described the leak as a warning to other world leaders that the Australian government could weaponize their private communications.