The city of Beijing is currently experiencing a high level of activity, with a recent Belt and Road forum, visits from international leaders, and a security summit. However, the impending arrival of the Australian prime minister has also sparked a lot of planning and discourse.
Albanese’s three-day trip to Shanghai and Beijing is the first visit by a prime minister in seven years and has been well received. He is scheduled to have meetings with Premier Li Qiang, who is hosting the official visit, and President Xi Jinping. The Australian government has stated that Albanese will address challenging topics during his discussions with Xi.
The Chinese media has described the upcoming visit as a turning point in the tumultuous relationship between Australia and China, where tensions have gradually eased in recent years. Numerous reports have praised the increase in trade between the two countries. On Thursday, the People’s Daily published a lengthy interview with former trade minister Andrew Robb, who expressed optimism for the economic relationship and its potential for growth.
According to China Daily, the recent trip has been deemed a significant step in mending political and economic relations, which had been at a standstill since 2016 due to the previous Australian government’s confrontational approach towards China.
Reports and Chinese authorities interviewed by the Guardian referenced the prohibition of Huawei in Australia, the early request for a Covid-19 investigation, and the 2020 raid by Asio on Chinese journalists from state media. Many pointed out that the main source of conflict was Canberra’s reinforcement of regional alliances that seem to be aimed at China, such as Aukus, the Quad, and closer relations with Japan, as well as its involvement in the South China Sea.
Subscribe to Guardian Australia’s complimentary morning and afternoon email newsletters to receive a daily summary of news.
A China Daily editorial stated that Beijing views Australia’s actions as blindly following the US, their major competitor. They also mentioned that historically, Australia has been hesitant to assert their independence and collaborate with neighboring countries.
Victor Gao, a chair professor at Soochow University, stated in a video editorial published by the Global Times that Australia should not selectively side with either China or the United States.
“Australia is not a competitor for China – militarily, politically speaking, economically speaking, in terms of trading relations.”
According to a senior analyst at a Chinese think tank, Australia should consider being more independent in their thinking, as reported by The Guardian in Beijing.
Before the visit, there were a few compromises made. In exchange for Australia loosening limitations on Chinese windtowers, tariffs on Australian imports such as wine were removed. The Australian reporter, Cheng Lei, was freed after nearly three years of being held in custody on unspecified national security allegations, although it was officially stated as the end of legal procedures.
In the previous month, a select few Australian reporters, including myself, were given the opportunity to visit China. The trip was closely monitored and was part of a long-standing partnership between the Australia Pacific Journalism Centre and the All-China Journalists Association, which is linked to the Chinese Communist Party. The program had been put on hold due to the pandemic, but its return was uncertain due to the deteriorating relationship between the two countries.
The notion was put forth that the seven-day excursion served as both a friendly gesture before Albanese’s arrival and a sort of assessment. None of the Australian press has had reporters stationed in China since the ABC’s Bill Birtles and Michael Smith of AFR escaped in 2020 following questioning by security officials.
Due to Xi’s authoritarian leadership, having open discussions with individuals in China has become more challenging and potentially dangerous if the opinions expressed are critical of the CCP. Sources outside of the country have reported a decrease in critical conversations and a belief that Xi is not receiving all necessary information from his fearful subordinates. One source highlighted the importance of leader-to-leader meetings, such as Albanese’s, as the only way to ensure that Xi is fully informed.
During the conversation regarding the deteriorating relations, representatives from political parties, think tanks, state media, and business circles all agreed that the Morrison and Turnbull administrations were solely responsible, disregarding the fact that the Albanese government has largely maintained a similar foreign policy approach.
The media in Australia has been attracting attention for their dramatic coverage of the perceived threat from China. There are also concerns within the country about the amount of foreign investment in Australia’s real estate market. While Australian officials have rejected the idea of China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang, they have acknowledged the damage to their reputation caused by China’s actions in Hong Kong. However, objections to China’s threats towards Taiwan were largely ignored, with many arguing that it is not the world’s concern. When asked about the release of Cheng Lei, few were willing to comment and some even avoided the question altogether. Similarly, there was no mention of Yang Hengjun, who remains imprisoned.
Further investigations conducted by Chi Hui Lin