Xi-Albanese meeting signals thaw in China-Australia ties, but experts say tensions remain

  • Trade at top of Australian PM’s agenda in first formal talks between leaders in six years
  • Chinese president says 50-year-old relationship needs ‘to be cherished by both sides’

Last week’s meeting between President Xi Jinping and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Bali may signal a thaw in bilateral ties but experts say there will be no second honeymoon in the relationship because Canberra will continue to support US efforts, a position Beijing views as containment.

After a long diplomatic freeze, Xi and Albanese met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia in the first formal meeting between the leaders of the long-time trade partners in six years.

Xi had not had a formal bilateral meeting with an Australian prime minister since 2016, and only had a brief discussion with Albanese’s predecessor, Scott Morrison, during the G20 summit in Japan in 2019.

Tuesday’s half-hour meeting was widely seen as representing a thaw in bilateral ties, even though no breakthroughs were made on points of contention ranging from trade to human rights and national security concerns.

The two leaders expressed their willingness to stabilise relations, which Xi said would be beneficial to regional and global peace and development. He added that Sino-Australian ties needed “to be cherished by both sides” as next month’s 50th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations drew near.

They acknowledged their economies were “highly complementary” and talked about trade, which seemed to be at the top of Albanese’s agenda. Before his trip to Bali, he said he would ask Xi to lift restrictions on A$20 billion (US$13.4 billion) worth Australian exports, but no progress on that front was announced following their meeting.

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