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Foreign Minister Penny Wong says prime minister won't visit China unless 'progress' is made

May 22, 2023

Penny Wong says Anthony Albanese won't travel to China unless changes are made to resolve trade and consular disputes.


Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong has indicated Prime Minister Anthony Albanese won't travel to China unless "continued progress" is made to resolve trade and consular disputes.

The invite from Chinese officials was made earlier this year and follows clashes between the two countries, which have in particular severely hindered Australian exporters.

China imposed trade sanctions on several items such as wine, rock lobsters, coal and barley in recent years which has cost exporters billions of dollars.

While some restrictions have been wound back there are still some bans in place.

Ms Wong suggested further progress on lifting trade sanctions was necessary before a visit to China could be scheduled.

"We have always had a principled and consistent position that all trade impediments should be removed," she told Senate estimates.

"We've seen some progress [on] coal, copper and timber, there's a process underway on barley and I, Trade Minister Don Farrell and the prime minister have made clear that we would want to see a similar pathway on wine.

"We will continue to press for the trade impediments to be lifted and obviously continue to engage in relation to consular cases.

"I would say that we would want to see continued progress and the most positive circumstances for any visit by the Prime Minister, and I think China would understand that."

Successive Australian governments have also pressed China on human rights violations in relation to Australian citizens being detained and Mr Albanese recently told reporters it was an issue he continued to raise with officials.

"The detention of Cheng Lei for example, hasn't even been able to speak to her children," he said in Japan on Sunday.

Australian journalist Cheng Lei marks 1000 days in Chinese detention

"That's not appropriate, we need transparency, Australia will continue to make representations to China on behalf of our citizens."

Shadow Foreign Minister Senator Simon Birmingham recently urged the prime minister not to travel to China until all trade issues were resolved.

"I think Australia does deserve to have absolute clarity that these trade sanctions are going to be lifted and that that clarity should be there before the Prime Minister entertains a formal state visit to Beijing," he told Insiders on Sunday.

On Monday, he pushed Ms Wong further on her comments and the minister reiterated change was part of the negotiations.

"Continued progress for the most positive circumstances for any visit [to China] by the Prime Minister," she said.

"Those are the words I'm using and I'm choosing them carefully."

Timing and further detail

Officials from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet were pressed by Senator Birmingham about how the invite from China came about.

"The Prime Minister has received an invitation to visit China and that's been conveyed by senior Chinese officials in recent discussions," the department's Craig Chittick told Senate estimates.

Senator Birmingham asked whether planning was already underway in relation to the trip but Mr Chittick remained tight lipped.

"There's ongoing discussions between Chinese and Australian officials for a visit sometime in the future," he said.

After years of disputes around human rights, national security and trade, Mr Albanese has made it clear he will travel to China.

Anthony Albanese met with Xi Jingping in Bali, in 2022.

While in Japan over the weekend, he confirmed he had advised other world leaders.

"I've informed our partners that I do intend to travel to China at some time in the future," he said on Sunday.

"And that has been welcomed as well.

"You need dialogue to get understanding, and you also need dialogue to avoid miscalculations, which has been a concern."

If the visit goes ahead, it would be the first by an Australian leader since former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull travelled to China in 2016.

Mr Farrell visited China earlier this month and insisted there was goodwill on both sides to improve the trade relationship but insisted more work was needed.

"The issues didn't occur overnight and they're not going to be resolved overnight," he said earlier this month.

"What I'd like to come back to Australia with is a pathway to resolve all of those outstanding issues."


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