Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Richard Marles says recent talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang boosted defence dialogue with China. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Minister confident of boosting China defence talks

Andrew Brown June 21, 2024

The federal government is optimistic that regular, in-person talks between Australian and Chinese military heads can resume, the defence minister says.

As the relationship between Australia and China thaws following years of diplomatic tensions and trade sanctions, Richard Marles said there was hope of annual discussions between defence leaders could get back under way.

“These were meetings that used to occur every year, so we want to get that back in place as soon as possible … the sooner this can happen the better,” Mr Marles told ABC Radio on Friday.

Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles.
 Richard Marles hopes in-person talks between Australian and Chinese military heads can resume. Image by AP PHOTO 

“There was definitely a desire to get that defence dialogue back to where it has been to put that in place as soon as we can.”

It comes after China’s second-highest official, Premier Li Qiang, visited Australia earlier this week, the first time a premier has made a trip to the country in seven years.

Following talks between Mr Li and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, the two countries agreed to improve military communication to avoid defence misunderstandings.

A Seahawk helicopter on HMAS Hobart.
 Canberra protested to Beijing that a Chinese jet endangered a navy helicopter with flares in May. Image by AP PHOTO 

Military incidents between Australia and China, such as a Chinese fighter jet dropping flares in front of an Australian helicopter in May threatened to reignite tensions between the countries.

Mr Marles said the talks with Mr Li had bolstered defence dialogue with China.

“It doesn’t resolve the fundamental issues that we might have between us. But what it does do is deepen the understanding that we have between us about what our behaviours are in certain circumstances,” he said.

“In that way, you avoid misunderstandings, and you build a much greater sense of understanding amongst our militaries about why we are behaving in particular ways.”

Mr Albanese said there was also optimism further trade sanctions imposed by China on Australian produce could be lifted after Mr Li’s visit.

While sanctions on products like beef, barley and wine had been lifted, trade restrictions on lobster remain in place.

“We’re very hopeful as well that in coming weeks crayfish will open up again to China,” he told Tasmanian radio station 7AD.

“We signed a (memorandum of understanding) about an expansion of the existing China Free Trade Agreement that we have. We’ve restored over $20 billion, if you look at it on an annual basis of trade with China.”