Chinese premier off to ‘Oz’

MELBOURNE, Australia — Chinese Premier Li Qiang is due to arrive in Australia on Saturday, June 15, 2024, on a relations-mending mission with panda diplomacy, rock lobsters and China’s global dominance in the critical minerals sector high on the agenda.

China’s most powerful politician after President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Adelaide Zoo and a Chinese-controlled lithium processing plant in the Kwinana Beach industrial estate, as well as Australia’s Parliament House, during a visit that will end on Tuesday, June 18.

Li’s visit is the first by a Chinese premier in seven years and is expected to pave the way for Xi’s first journey to Australia since 2014.

China initiated a reset of the bilateral relationship after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s center-left Labor Party was elected in 2022. The relationship collapsed during the previous conservative administration’s almost decade in power over legislation that banned covert foreign interference in Australian politics, the exclusion of Chinese-owned telecommunications giant Huawei from rolling out the national 5G network due to security concerns, and Australia’s call for an independent investigation into the causes of and responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beijing imposed an array of official and unofficial trade blocks in 2020 on a range of Australian exports including coal, wine, barley and wood that cost up to 20 billion Australian dollars ($13 billion) a year.

All the trade bans have now been lifted except for Australian live lobster exports. Trade Minister Don Farrell predicted that impediment would also be lifted soon after Li’s visit with Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao.

“I’d be very confident that the visit this week will result in a very successful outcome for lobster producers,” Farrell told reporters Wednesday, June 12.

Many observers expect Australia will be more cautious about its future economic relationship with China after being subjected to what many see as economic coercion in recent years. / AP

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