The progress of repairing China-Australia ties, strained over Canberra’s concerns about Chinese influence in its domestic affairs, has been “unsatisfactory”, said China’s top diplomat after meeting his Australian counterpart.

“During our diplomatic and strategic dialogue in Beijing last November, we agreed to calibrate and relaunch China-Australia relations, but the process of improving our ties has not been satisfactory,” said state councillor Wang Yi after the Bangkok meeting on the sidelines of a regional security forum.

Wang said he hoped China’s relations with Australia could be back on track as soon as possible, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.

Both countries have no historical grievances and fundamental conflicts of interests and their interests are highly complementary, Wang said.

China is Australia’s major trading partner and while there are difficulties in bilateral ties, Australia is willing to strengthen dialogue and communication with China on the basis of mutual respect, the statement cited the Australian foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, as saying.

Australia has banned Chinese telecommunications equipment-maker Huawei from supplying its 5G mobile networks over security concerns and is seeking to counter China’s emerging influence in the South Pacific islands.

Australia will make its own decisions and will not discriminate against any particular country or company, Payne was quoted as saying in regard to the Huawei issue.

Last week Payne issued a warning to foreign diplomatic representatives residing in Australia that the nation would not tolerate interference in the exercise of free speech.

It came after the Chinese consul-general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, backed the “patriotic behaviour” of Chinese students who clashed with pro-Hong Kong protesters at the University of Queensland.

Payne said the right to free speech and to peaceful and lawful protest was protected in Australia, even on contentious and sensitive issues.

“The government would be particularly concerned if any foreign diplomatic mission were to act in ways that could undermine such rights, including by encouraging disruptive or potentially violent behaviour,” Payne said.

Last month Payne said Australia remained “deeply concerned” about China’s treatment of the Uighur people, including use of forced labour.

In June, a Lowy Institute poll suggested trust by Australians in China to be a responsible global actor had hit its lowest point since the survey began 15 years ago.

The increasing negativity about China coincides with extensive reporting by Australian media outlets about Beijing’s use of soft power, concerns about increasing Chinese influence in the Pacific and the ongoing flashpoint of the South China Sea.

Beijing says it never interferes in the internal affairs of another country.


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