Australia says Chinese relations won’t improve to past highs

Australia's new Foreign Minister Penny Wong attends a government swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Canberra on May 23, 2022. (Photo by SAEED KHAN / AFP)

Australia is working to stabilise relations with China but could not return to the thriving economic relationship with its biggest trading partner that existed 15 years ago, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Monday icy bilateral relations that deteriorated during the previous conservative Australian government’s nine years in power have shown signs of improvement since Wong’s centre-left Labour Party was elected almost a year ago.
Minister-to-Minister meetings have resumed, China has recently lifted restrictions on Australian coal imports and Australia hopes a 3-year-old tariff barrier on Australian barley will be lifted within months. But Wong said that trade relations could not return to the level when conservative Prime Minister John was in power from 1996 until 2007. Trade was then separated from political and strategic priorities.
“I have been very clear that we seek to stabilize the relationship,” Wong told the National Press Club. “I think both countries know we are not going to go back to where we were 15 years ago.”
China has imposed a series of official and unofficial trade barriers to Australian exports in recent years, particularly since the previous government angered Beijing by calling for an independent investigation into the causes of and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Australian businesses and state leaders were impatient for Chinese barriers to be lifted for exports including wine, wood and seafood, Wong described diversifying to other markets as “a smart thing to do.”
Australia has blocked the sale of assets including critical infrastructure to Chinese companies on national security grounds in recent years.