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Albanese's China visit is a good first step

By Xu Ying | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-11-05 14:22

The visit of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to China this week marks a significant milestone in the relations between China and Australia. The trip, the first by an Australian leader since 2016, comes on the back of a steady thawing in ties over recent months, underpinned by growing economic interdependence.

The deterioration in political relations between Beijing and Canberra since 2016 had been extremely regrettable. While reasonable criticism can be healthy, Australia had gone beyond acceptable lines and was seen as echoing inflammatory anti-China rhetoric of the US. This was regarded by China as being incompatible with friendly relations between countries that have deeply intertwined economies.

Nonetheless, Beijing exercised high-level strategic patience and restraint, avoiding escalatory responses while keeping communication channels open. This prevented ties from descending into outright hostility. 

With the tensions cooling post-pandemic, conditions have ripened for a reset. This was initiated by the change of government in Australia in 2022. The Albanese administration has struck a more constructive tone than its predecessor.

Prime Minister Albanese's China visit this week is the culmination of these overtures. While in Shanghai, deepening business links and two-way investment will be the central talking points. This aligns perfectly with China's economic priorities as Australia seeks to revive growth and exports in a volatile global environment. Australian mineral resources remain important for powering China's next stage of development.

At the same time, Albanese's plan to raise prickly issues should not derail the commercial focus. These matters should be addressed respectfully through proper diplomatic avenues rather than megaphone diplomacy. With wisdom, they need not hinder overall progress.

Looking ahead, a reset of Australia-China ties based on mutual benefit aligns with the vision for Asia's future, a region of common development where win-win cooperation takes primacy over zero-sum rivalry. Australia's economic complementarities with China and Asia position it well to partake in the region's dynamism. To fully seize this, ties between Beijing and Canberra must continue healing.

Albanese's visit is thus welcomed as creating fertile ground for the ongoing rejuvenation of relations. Some in China, for understandable reasons, harbor mistrust about whether Australia can genuinely correct course and sustain balanced ties. This makes it all the more important that Beijing continues engaging Canberra constructively, creating positive motivations and incentives.

With two-way goodwill and wisdom, a modus vivendi catering to the core interests of both countries should be achievable. Australia supplying resources, education and services to meet China's soaring demand while China propels Australia's prosperity through win-win commercial engagement. Some disagreements are natural. But these can be managed to promote mutual understanding, not mutual suspicion.

As Albanese arrives, he must signal credibly that Australia's China policy is now rooted in level-headed realism, not naive idealism. If both sides stay this prudent course, a new anchoring stability can be brought to Australia-China ties. This will serve the region's prosperity and development, injecting vital certainty into a world too overwhelmed by upheaval and strife. A reset is eminently achievable if good faith and wisdom prevail.

The author is a Beijing-based commentator. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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