Australia’s relationship with China has not retreated back to square one despite inflammatory comments out of Beijing in recent days, Trade Minister Don Farrell insists.
The two-month-old Labor government had made headway with the frosty bi-partisan relationship after the first high-level ministerial meetings in a number of years.
But Beijing’s state media mouthpiece the Global Times this week wrote Defence Minister Richard Marles “has become one of Canberra’s most aggressive actors against China”.
“In less than two months, Marles has rushed to reverse the outside world’s impression of him as being ‘rational’ toward China,” Monday’s editorial reads.
“It has also raised more doubts about the willingness of the new Australian administration to improve relations with China.”
But despite the comments, Mr Farrell said he didn’t think the relationship had reverted to previous lows.
“Foreign Minister Penny Wong had a very good meeting with her counterpart and I issued an olive branch to my equivalent in the trade space,” he told the ABC.
“I’m still hopeful at some stage this year there might be an opportunity to meet and discuss some of the important issues we would like to sort out with China.
“One positive sign is I did get a congratulatory letter from my equivalent and I plan to write back to him shortly and offer to meet at a time convenient to him.”
China should also move to lift trade restrictions against Australian products, Mr Farrell said.
“There’s no easy solution to this, we need to be positive, we need to try and be constructive. We want a good relationship with China into the future … but there are a few hurdles along the way,” he said.
“There are some blockages in our trade relationship. Unfortunately we have had to take some action with the World Trade Organisation.
“We’d be hopeful that rather than proceed with a trade dispute through the WTO that we could get those restrictions on Australian sales lifted.”