Chinese Premier Li Qiang next to the Chinese flag.
Chinese Premier Li Qiang is in New Zealand before flying to Australia on Saturday. Image by Ben McKay/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics (general)

PM warned not to pander to China as premier visits

June 14, 2024

Australia should positively welcome the Chinese premier during his high-stakes visit but the prime minister must not shy away from thornier issues, the opposition says.

Beijing’s second-in-command, Li Qiang, will visit Australia from Saturday to Tuesday – the first trip by a Chinese premier in seven years.

Mr Li will start his visit in Adelaide where he is expected to announce an extension of the loan of two pandas at the city’s zoo, which was due to expire at the year’s end.

Wang Wang the giant panda at Adelaide Zoo
 Adelaide Zoo’s giant pandas are expected to be on the agenda during Li Qiang’s visit. Image by Kelly Barnes/AAP PHOTOS 

During his stay in the South Australian capital, Mr Li will meet winemakers on Sunday and attend a lunch hosted by Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Trade Minister Don Farrell.

He will then travel to Canberra for talks with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Monday before finishing his visit in Perth on Tuesday.

As the ice begins to thaw on a once-strained bilateral relationship, Mr Albanese is expected to make Mr Li feel welcome.

But opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham warned Australian issues must be kept front of mind.

“This is not an environment where public lecturing is to be expected or undertaken, we want to make sure and everybody should wish it to be a positive visit,” he told Sky News on Friday.

“(But) the purpose of that visit is to also be up front about remaining bilateral concerns and how we maximise the benefits of the relationship.

“Also, playing our role as a global citizen in raising those regional and global concerns: the very serious consequences of the way China behaves militarily in our region and is empowering the behaviour of others in the world – and the death and destruction that those others are causing.”

Simon Birmingham at a press conference.
 Simon Birmingham has urged the prime minister not to avoid the thornier issues with China. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

Mr Birmingham also urged the prime minister to be direct when advocating for Australian writer Yang Hengjun, who received a suspended death sentence in February and remains in a Chinese prison, and other Australian residents being targeted by Hong Kong authorities.

Mr Albanese has promised to raise points of contention with Mr Li, including the Chinese military’s dangerous actions towards Australian Defence Force personnel in a number of incidents.

Australian rock lobster producers are also hopeful the visit will put an end to crippling sanctions on their exports.

Beijing imposed sanctions worth $20 billion on Australian products in 2020 after the former coalition government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

China has dropped bans on exports since Labor came to office in 2022, with less than $1 billion worth of trade restrictions remaining on rock lobsters and two meatworks.

South Australian lobster fisherman Kyri Toumazos said the industry’s revenue was between 50 and 60 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels as a result of the sanctions.

“The impact has been catastrophic for us,” he said.

“Businesses have chosen to exit the industry. Exporters have chosen to stop trading. Traditional family businesses have had to make the difficult decision of selling their licences.”

Mr Toumazos said the industry was hoping for good news after positive signs and feedback.

He said the Chinese market was the most lucrative for Australian exporters, previously importing the vast majority of lobster produced.

Australian National University associate professor Graeme Smith said the trip was a demonstration China was serious about getting relations back on track.

He also noted Beijing’s appetite for the nation’s resources, including critical minerals, and said it was likely trade sanctions would be dropped as a “sweetener” for the visit.