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Wong seeks to stabilise China relationship

Penny Wong China
Foreign Minister Penny Wong is at the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting in Bali this week Photo: AAP
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Foreign Minister Penny Wong has vowed the government won’t make any concessions to China against Australia’s national interest, ahead of key diplomatic talks between the two countries.

Senator Wong will meet with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting in Bali on Friday.

It will be the first meeting between the foreign ministers of the two nations since 2019.

Senator Wong said the meeting was an important step forward, following a three-year ministerial deep freeze on China-Australia talks.

“We believe it’s in the interests of both countries for the relationship to be stabilised. I look forward to an open discussion with my counterpart,” she told reporters in Indonesia on Friday.

“It’ll be an important opportunity to engage on bilateral issues … we all know we have our differences, there are challenges in the relationship.”

Among those challenges are trade sanctions issued by China against many Australian products including wine, beef and coal.

Senator Wong noted Australia had been clear on its trade position, saying the measures were not in the interest of either country.

But Senator Wong said Australia would stand firm in the discussions.

“We’re clear, we won’t be making any concessions when it comes to Australia’s national interests,” she said.

“You would anticipate that there are a number of issues raised … We will do so diplomatically and directly.”

At a joint press conference in Sydney alongside New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Anthony Albanese said China had changed its position in the past decade to be “more forward-leaning” and “more aggressive”.

“We will cooperate with China, but we will stand for Australian values when we must,” the prime minister told reporters.

“When we engage in the (Pacific) region, there aren’t strings attached. We engage because that is the right thing to do by lifting up the development of our neighbours, we have a responsibility to do that.”

Ms Ardern indicated China had been more assertive in the Pacific, but countries in the region should not be forced to choose between who they partner with.

It comes after China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands and seeks similar deals with other Pacific nations.

“It should be the Pacific priorities first and foremost, they should be free of coercion,” Mr Ardernn said.

“There should be high-quality investment and infrastructure because that’s what the region deserves.”

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham welcomed the resumed dialogue, but could not explain the change of tone from Beijing.

“It’s a matter for the Chinese government to explain why it is they were unwilling to engage in diplomatic dialogue at the ministerial level with the democratically elected government of Australia before but they are doing so now,” he told Sky News on Friday.

“We ought to make sure that those ties are fostered and enhanced at every possible opportunity.”

– AAP