‘We won’t always agree’:Albanese rejects Chinese premier’s call to shelve disputes

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will push back on visiting Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s calls to shelve differences between the two nations,insisting that serious disagreements will not disappear simply by being treated as taboos.

As Albanese prepares to raise thesuspended death sentence handed to Chinese-Australian academic Yang Hengjun in a meeting with Li on Monday,Yang’s supporters called for Albanese to demand the jailed writer be released on medical grounds or transferred to Australia as he battles a kidney ailment.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong,South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas and Chinese Premier Li Qiang during a visit to view giant panda Wang Wang at Adelaide Zoo.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong,South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas and Chinese Premier Li Qiang during a visit to view giant panda Wang Wang at Adelaide Zoo.Alex Ellinghausen

Trade Minister Don Farrell insisted that Australia was not “kowtowing” to Beijing by welcoming Li to Australia,as Foreign Minister Penny Wong warned that Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s pledge toditch Australia’s 2030 carbon reduction target could help China gain a diplomatic foothold in the Pacific.

Li began his four-day Australian visit – the first by a Chinese premier since 2017 – with a trip to Adelaide where he invited Australian officials to travel to China within months to select two new pandas to be loaned to Adelaide Zoo.

At his first public engagement,Li was met by several hundred protesters opposing China’s treatment of ethnic minorities as well as a substantial contingent supporting the Chinese Communist Party.

In a statement delivered after arriving in Adelaide,Li said China-Australia relations were “back on track after a series of twists and turns,generating tangible benefits to the people of both countries”.

“History has proven that seeking common ground while shelving differences and mutually beneficial co-operation are the valuable experience in growing China-Australia relations and must be upheld and carried forward,” he said.

Albanese will strike a different tone in a speech at a state lunch in Parliament House on Monday,declaring that China and Australia “must always be ready to engage with each other as mature nations”.

“We won’t always agree,and the points in which we disagree won’t simply disappear if we leave them in silence,” Albanese will say,according to his speech notes.

“Creating channels of dialogue and building understanding is how we make it possible for benefits to flow.”

China's second most powerful man,Premier Li Qiang has declared the relationship with Australia is "back on track".

Albanese will say:“There is much that remains to be done,but it is clear that our nations are making progress in stabilising and rebuilding that crucial dialogue.”

Albanese has vowed to raise points of disagreement in his meeting with Li,including Yang’s situation and recent dangerous military encounters between the Chinese and Australian militaries.

The federal opposition is also calling on Albanese to raise the issue of foreign interference after this masthead revealed federal police told two prominent Australian critics of the Chinese Communist Party they were the suspected targets of a foreign interference operation.

Supporters of Yang,a former Chinese Ministry of State Security official,described him as an “Australian political prisoner who has been sentenced to death because of his writings in support of individual freedoms,constitutional democracy and rule-of-law”.

“Authorities have now ‘reviewed’ and upheld his original suspended death sentence,” the supporters said in a statement,adding they understood that Yang was being moved to prison confinement after more than five years in a security detention centre.

“Clearly,it is not possible to achieve a stable,respectful bilateral relationship with China while their officials are threatening to execute an Australian political prisoner without any semblance of due process,” they said.

During his visit to Adelaide Zoo,Li said China would provide a new pair of “beautiful,lovely and adorable pandas” as soon as possible.

“We can give you some candidates and invite you to China to pick the ones you want to bring to Adelaide Zoo,” he said.

Li said China would provide a new pair of “beautiful,lovely and adorable pandas” as soon as possible.

Li said China would provide a new pair of “beautiful,lovely and adorable pandas” as soon as possible.Alex Ellinghausen

Li said Beijing had decided to loan Australia two pandas to “fulfil the wishes” of Adelaide-based Wong,who had raised the issue several times with her Chinese counterparts during her most recent visit to China.

South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas thanked Li for the “generous offer”,saying:“It is one that the South Australian people will very much embrace.”

Leaving the panda enclosure,Li interacted with a brush-tailed bettong named Rambo before heading to the Penfolds Magill estate for lunch with local wine exporters.

In a nod to the major remaining trade disputes between Australia and China,the dignitaries dined on an entrée of South Australian rock lobster before eating a main course of wagyu striploin from South Australia’s Mayura Station.

Protesters and supporters of Chinese Premier Li Qiang at the entrance of Adelaide Zoo.

Protesters and supporters of Chinese Premier Li Qiang at the entrance of Adelaide Zoo.Alex Ellinghausen

Australia is seeking to regain access to the Chinese market for rock lobster and crayfish exporters,as well as two beef abattoirs,after previous restrictions on Australian wine,coal,timber and barley exports were removed.

Australian officials are confident the seafood restrictions will soon be lifted,but are not sure when.

Wong and Farrell both faced questions on Sunday about whether Australia’s more conciliatory tone towards China meant compromising on democratic values as China continues its aggressive behaviour in the region.

Farrell said Labor was overturning blocks on Australian exports by acting more maturely than the Coalition did when in government.

“We’ve managed to get all these things without kowtowing to the Chinese government,” he said on Sky News’Sunday Agenda.

Wong said Dutton’s recent stance of putting off decisions on a 2030 emissions reduction target would diminish Australian ties with Pacific nations deeply worried about climate risks.

“We are now in a position where Australia is a partner of choice but the opportunity to be the only partner of choice has been lost by Mr Dutton and his colleagues,and we are in a state of permanent contest in the Pacific,” she said on ABC’sInsiders.

Anti-CCP protesters gathered outside the Adelaide Zoo chanted slogans including “Uyghur lives matter” and “Human lives over profit” as they waved Uyghur,Tibetan and Hong Kong flags.

“We want Prime Minister Albanese to classify what China is doing to the Uyghurs in East Turkistan as a genocide and crime against humanity,” Adam Turan,the president of the East Turkistan Australian Association,said.

“He should raise human rights and call for him to end the concentration camps.”

Pro-CCP protester Mike Wang said he and his family had come to show support for the Chinese premier and to support improved trade ties between the two nations.

“The Australian economy is not going so well,so more trade opportunities are important,” he said.

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Matthew Knott is national correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald,focusing on race,culture and identity. He was previously North America correspondent for the Herald and The Age.

Paul Sakkal is federal political correspondent for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald who previously covered Victorian politics and has won two Walkley awards.

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