Australian prime minister announces China visit hours before leaving for US to meet Biden

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he will visit China in early November to meet President Xi Jinping, making the announcement Sunday hours before he departed for the United States to meet with President Joe Biden.

The Chinese visit dates were confirmed a day after Beijing agreed to review the crippling tariffs it levied on Australian wine that have effectively blocked trade with the winemakers’ biggest export market since 2020.

Albanese will become the first Australian prime minister to visit China in seven years when he travels to Beijing and Shanghai on Nov. 4-7.

“It’s in Australia’s interest to have good relations with China,” Albanese told reporters at Australian Parliament House, adding that his focus in the coming days will be on the visit to the United States.

“With Australia’s closest partner, talking about the future of our alliance, the future which has been upgraded by the AUKUS arrangements, a future based upon our common values, our commitment to democracy, and our commitment to the international rule of law and stable order throughout the globe,” Albanese added, using the acronym for Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Under the trilateral pact, the U.S. and Britain will cooperate to provide Australia with a fleet of submarines powered by U.S. nuclear technology to counter a more assertive China.

Albanese said he will meet with Xi and Premier Li Qiang in Beijing and then attend the China International Import Expo in Shanghai.

The visit to China and a potential breakthrough in the wine dispute mark a further repair in relations since Albanese’s center-left Labor Party won elections last year after nine years of conservative government in Australia.

China has agreed to review its tariffs on Australian wine over five months, Albanese’s office said. In return, Australia has suspended its complaint against its free trade partner to the World Trade Organization.

China confirmed that the two sides had reached a consensus on resolving the issues “appropriately” regarding Australian wine.

“We are willing to work with Australia to continue to meet each other halfway through dialogue and consultation and jointly promote the stable and healthy development of bilateral economic and trade relations,” the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said.

A similar dispute resolution plan led to China removing tariffs on Australian barley.

Albanese said reopening the Chinese wine market would be worth more than 1 billion Australian dollars ($631 million) to exporters.

“We’re very confident that this will result in once again Australian wine, a great product, being able to go to China free of the tariffs which have been imposed by China,” Albanese said.

“It is important that we stabilize our relationship with China. That is in the interests of Australia and China, and it is indeed in the interests of the world that we have stable relations and that is what this visit will represent,” he added.

Australian Grape and Wine chief executive Lee McLean, a national wine industry advocate, described the breakthrough as a “really positive step.”

“The diversification effort needs to continue … but we absolutely also need to look at opportunities in China as well,” McLean said.

“It’s one market that is going to be important to us,” he added.

Albanese’s visit will come near the 50th anniversary of Labor Party leader Gough Whitlam becoming the first Australian prime minister to visit the People’s Republic of China in 1973.

Albanese accepted an invitation weeks ago to visit China this year, but finding suitable dates had been challenging.

Albanese is visiting Washington to meet with Biden this week and will return to the United States after his China trip to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ forum in San Francisco on Nov. 15-17.

It will be the ninth time Biden has met with Albanese as prime minister. The first meeting was in Tokyo hours after Albanese was sworn in as government leader in May last year for a leaders’ summit of the Quad strategic partnership that also includes Japan and India.

As well as the AUKUS deal, the leaders will also seek more cooperation on clean energy, critical minerals and climate change.

Albanese’s department announced Friday that it decided after an investigation not to cancel a Chinese company’s 99-year lease on the strategically important Darwin Port despite U.S. concerns the foreign control could be used to spy on its military forces.

Some security analysts interpreted the decision to let Shandong Landbridge Group keep the lease signed in 2015 and long criticized by Albanese as a concession to China ahead of his visit.

China’s release of Australian journalist Cheng Lei this month after she spent three years in detention in Beijing on espionage allegations was widely seen as a concession to Australia.

Albanese said the breakthrough on wine “has not been transactional,” meaning Australia did not make any corresponding concessions to Chinese demands.

“We’ll continue to put our case on matters that are in Australia’s national interest,” he said.

“I’ve said very consistently: We’ll cooperate with China where we can, we’ll disagree where we must, and we’ll engage in our national interest, and that’s precisely what we’re doing,” he added.

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