‘Handsome boy’ Albanese schedules annual leaders’ meetings with China

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Beijing: China and Australia will resume annual leaders’ meetings after years of hostility between the two governments.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese arrived at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Tuesday morning to a ceremonial guard of more than 100 soldiers and was welcomed by Chinese Premier Li Qiang.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, arrives to a ceremonial welcome at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.Credit: AAP

“Our meeting today marks the recommencement of annual leaders’ meetings between the prime minister and the premier,” Li said.

The leaders’ meetings were cancelled by China under the former Coalition government after multiple disputes with Australia over human rights, national security, COVID-19 and the cancellation of Victoria’s Belt and Road infrastructure agreement.

Li described Albanese as an “old friend” after meeting the prime minister three times in the past year.

The overall tone of the visit is a significant shift from years of diplomatic threats by Beijing in an attempt to get Australia to change its policies on national security and human rights.

Albanese had moderated the government’s rhetoric towards Beijing but largely maintained the government’s foreign policy position.

“Australia will hold firm to our interests and values, as all countries do,” he said.

“As nations with different histories, political systems and values, Australia and China will, though, not be defined by our differences, but will be defined by how we can work through these issues. The fact that these meetings are now going to continue is very important for our relations.”

In a light-hearted remark at the beginning of the meeting, Qiang said many Chinese people had seen social media posts about Albanese visiting China.

“I see on social media of China that there are many sharing short videos about your trip to China, including your speech, including a video of you running along the Huangpu River with a yellow jersey,” Li said of the footage of Albanese wearing a Matildas football jersey on Shanghai’s Bund foreshore on Sunday.

“People were saying that we have a handsome boy coming from Australia.”

Li said Albanese’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday, where Xi vowed to improve bilateral ties, provided the strategic guidance for future relations.

“We hope our two sides will continue to work towards the same direction and sustain this positive moment that we enjoy now,” he said.

Chen Hong, a professor of Australian Studies at East China Normal University, said both sides wanted to avoid provoking each other.

“Albanese and his Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, always say that when dealing with Australia’s relationship with China, they will co-operate where we can and disagree where we must,” he told Chinese state media on Monday. “I think China holds exactly the same principle.”

Albanese’s visit dominated Chinese and English-language state media on Tuesday, signalling a broader shift in sentiment towards Australia that could see more Australian businesses enter the world’s largest consumer market.

Li acknowledged the Australian and Chinese media in the room.

“I hope our journalists will give objective and fair reports on each other’s country to promote mutual understanding and friendship between the two peoples,” he said.

China has blocked visas for permanent Australian foreign correspondents for more than three years.

More to come

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