Australian and Chinese diplomatic relations appear to have stalled after the Australian government continued to remain stalwart in the face of Beijing’s refusal to back down on punitive trade sanctions imposed on Australia which, the Chinese regime called “beyond reproach.”
Speaking at a press conference on June 22, the spokesperson for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Wang Weibin said that Beijing’s measures were taken with a “view to protect the legitimate rights.”
“The measures are legitimate, lawful and beyond reproach,” Wang said reiterating that Australia needed to work with China to develop the China-Australia comprehensive strategic partnership.
In Australia, the centre-left government has continued its strong stance towards the trade sanctions with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese saying that Beijing needed to drop the punitive tariffs if the Chinese regime wants bilateral relations restored.
“China needs to remove the sanctions,” Albanese said. “And that will go a long way toward restoring improved relations.”
Albanese, who was speaking to the ABC 7:30 report on June 23 said that while there had been a breakthrough in diplomatic relations in the past few weeks the relationship remained challenging.
“There’s a long way to go. It will be a problematic relationship,” Albanese said. “China has sanctions against Australia that should be removed, they’re damaging the Australian economy and jobs, but they’re also causing damage to the Chinese economy.”
Beijing’s punitive economic coercion swept up eight major Australian exports—beef, seafood, wine, honey, lamb, wheat, coal, and timber—after previous Foreign Minister Marise Payne called for an inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020.
The CCP also delivered a list containing 14 “grievances” that Australia needed to address before diplomatic relations could be normalized.
They included a demand for the government to stop the press reporting negatively on China; stop building alliances with Indo-Pacific partners; rescind the ban on Huawei from Australia’s 5G network, and remove foreign interference laws.
Beijing’s Piecemeal Offering
China broke its freeze on diplomatic relations with Australia with the Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe hosting Australia’s new deputy prime minister and minister for defense, Richard Marles, for dinner.
Marles said the meeting, which took place in Singapore on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue defense summit on June 10, was a welcomed one and allowed Australia’s new Albanese government to have “a very frank and full exchange” between “two countries of consequence in Indo-Pacific region.”
However, since this meeting little has changed in the relationship with Beijing continuing to say that Australia must change if it wants the economic coercion to end.
Opposition Defence Minister Andrew Hastie has previously said that the meeting between Marles and Wei Fenghe was not “a Nixon goes to China moment.”
Don’t Trade Away Australia’s Values or Sovereignty
“The test of any meeting is the outcome it delivers. And so I’d like to know whether or not the Chinese have withdrawn their 14 demands,” Hastie said. “Whether they’ve apologized for the lazing of our P-8 crew in the Arafura Sea in February, and indeed, the P-8 crew in the South China Sea, which was intercepted by a Chinese fighter last month.”
He also warned the Australian government should not trade away Australia’s values or its sovereignty in any discussions with China.
“We certainly can’t trade away our values or our sovereignty; we’re not the problem here. We didn’t issue 14 demands as they did, including demands that we clamp down on press freedom in this country or repeal our foreign interference laws or allow Huawei into our 5G network,” he said.
A J-16 Chinese military jet had released flares as it flew close to the side of the Australian P-8 aircraft while the P-8 was on its regular maritime surveillance flight in international airspace in May.
The Chinese jet then accelerated and cut across the nose of the Australian plane, before releasing a “bundle of chaff” containing small aluminum pieces, some of which were “ingested” into the P-8’s engine.
“Quite obviously, this is very dangerous,” Marles said.
But he said that the incident “will not deter” Australia from engaging in surveillance activity with the ABC reporting that Australia sent a second surveillance plane to the region within hours of the incident.
“Other countries do the same,” Marles said. “We are deeply invested in the rights of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea … This is a body of water that is deeply connected to Australia because of our trade, which goes through there.”