Anthony Albanese has delivered an implicit rebuke to China for its strong-arm tactics during Beijing’s protracted trade war with Canberra, telling attenders at a trade expo in Shanghai “Australia and China have prospered thanks to the certainty and stability that is made possible by rules-based trade”.
One the first day of official business during his landmark trip to China, Australia’s prime minister spoke at the country’s largest international trade show after the opening remarks of China’s premier, Li Qiang.
With premier Li watching on, Albanese noted there was an important role “for government to play in creating the right conditions for business to innovate and thrive, and helping business take advantage of market opportunities.”
“We do that by eliminating unnecessary barriers to trade and investment by fostering a level playing field and by working towards inclusive economic growth,” Albanese said.
Australia’s prime minister noted “every” country had “a role to play in advancing trade that is both sustainable and inclusive” and those goals could be achieved “through our domestic policies, and through fostering open and inclusive regional and international architecture.”
Minutes earlier, the Chinese premier had used his opening address to declare China was “resolutely opposed to unilateralism and protectionism and [would] firmly uphold the authority and the effectiveness of the multilateral trading system.”
Li’s remarks come despite China imposing punitive unilateral trade sanctions on Australian exports at the height of the damaging bilateral trade war with Australia. Some of those sanctions remain in place.
China lifted tariffs on Australian barley in August and agreed to review the sanctions imposed on Australian wine producers in late October. Australia’s trade minister Don Farrell met his Chinese counterpart, commerce minister Wang Wentao, on Saturday night to press the case for lifting the remaining sanctions on Australian exports, including rock lobsters.
In a positive signal from the Chinese leadership after disruptive wars with both the US and Australia, Li told the Shanghai trade expo China intended to pursue the stability of global supply chains and “promote international consensus and rules that are conducive to opening up and cooperation and removing the disruption of non-economic factors.”
On Sunday, China’s premier declared: “China will always stand on the right side of history and keep up with the progress of the times.”
The prime minister attended the opening session of the China International Import Expo in Shanghai before meeting Australian and Chinese business leaders and attending a reception hosted by Tourism Australia later in the afternoon.
Albanese told the expo in the half century since Gough Whitlam had first visited China – a milestone being marked during the first visit to China by an Australian prime minister since 2016 – “both our economies have transformed and modernised and diversified in ways that our predecessors could not have imagined.”
The prime minister said peace and prosperity went hand in hand. “Both our nations have benefited from a region that has grown and prospered, become more open and interconnected – a region that has been stable and peaceful,” Albanese said.
“Both our societies have gained from tourism and educational exchange, from innovators and small business operators. And our trade in goods and services has nearly doubled since the China Australia free trade agreement came into force – making more and more high quality Australian products available to consumers in China, and providing key inputs for Chinese businesses.”
Albanese will travel to Beijing on Sunday night meeting China’s president, Xi Jinping, in the Great Hall of the People, on Monday. Xi is expected to press for Australia’s support for China to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
On Sunday, premier Li said China would pursue “more high level open platforms to expand globally oriented” free trade agreements and “actively pursue accession” to the CPTTP. Australia is expecting China to ask for Australia’s support to achieve that ambition during this visit.
Albanese is expected to raise human rights and consular issues, including the continuing detention of the writer, Yang Hengjun. China released the Australian journalist Cheng Lei in the weeks leading up to the Australian visit.