Foreign Minister Penny Wong called her meeting with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi an important first step in stabilizing relations between the countries.
Senator Wong raised issues of trade sanctions and Australians detained in China during a meeting with Mr Wang on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Bali on Friday.
“We spoke frankly and listened carefully to each other’s priorities and concerns,” Senator Wong told reporters about the talks.
“As you might expect, I have raised a number of issues relating to bilateral, regional and consular matters.”
Senator Wong said she discussed with Mr. Wang the cases of detained Australian journalist Cheng Lei and writer Yang Hengjun, among others.
“Obviously we have discussed existing trade blockages and it remains the position of the government, these trade blockages need to be removed and we have stated this publicly and our private position reflects this.”
China has imposed trade sanctions on many Australian products, including wine, beef and coal.
Senator Wong said that stabilizing relations will take time, effort, work and nuance, and noted that China’s differences with Australia are well known.
“We both acknowledged that this is a first step for both of our countries,” she said of the meeting with Mr Wang, the first meeting of Australian and Chinese foreign ministers since 2019.
“We have a path to take and we will see if it can lead to better relations between the two countries.”
Earlier, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said that China has changed its stance over the past decade, becoming “more progressive” and “more aggressive”.
“We will work with China, but we will uphold Australian values when necessary,” Albanese told reporters at a joint press conference in Sydney with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
“When we participate in the (Pacific) region, we are not attached to anything. We are participating because it is right, raising the development of our neighbors, and we are responsible for this.”
Ms. Ardern pointed out that China has been more assertive in the Pacific, but countries in the region should not be forced to choose between who they work with.
It happens after and is looking for similar deals with other Pacific countries.
“First of all, these should be Pacific priorities, they should be free from coercion,” Ms. Ardern said.
“There must be high-quality investment and infrastructure because that’s what the region deserves.”
Opposition spokesman for foreign affairs Simon Birmingham welcomed the resumption of dialogue but failed to explain the change in tone from Beijing.
“The Chinese government should explain why it has previously been reluctant to engage in ministerial-level diplomatic dialogue with the democratically elected Australian government, but is doing so now,” he told Sky News on Friday.
“We need to make sure these connections are encouraged and strengthened at every opportunity.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters on Friday that “a healthy and stable relationship between China and Australia is in the interests of both peoples.”
“Stable and healthy political relations are a prerequisite and a guarantee for practical cooperation. There is no autopilot mode to improve Sino-Australian relations,” he said at a regular briefing in Beijing.
The meeting between Australia and China in Bali comes days before the meeting of the leaders of the Pacific Islands in Fiji.
China’s desire to expand its security ties in the South Pacific, which Australia opposes, will be discussed at a meeting in Fiji.
On Friday, Mr. Albanese said the Pacific is in a period of strategic competition and China has become “more aggressive.”
“Australia’s position is that we will continue to interact and cooperate, we want to cooperate with China where possible. But we will stand up for Australian values when needed,” he told reporters in Sydney.
Penny Wong called the invasion of Ukraine a “gross violation”
Speaking earlier on the sidelines of the meeting, Ms Wong was among several foreign ministers who rose at Friday’s meeting to call for a Russian invasion that dominated the high-profile summit’s agenda.
“We all know that these issues, these key principles, are threatened by Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. This is a flagrant violation of international law,” Ms Wong said.
“It undermines the principles and values that the community of nations has come together to subscribe to in the context of the United Nations and the post-war settlement.”
“I also want to stress that only Russia is responsible for its actions and the consequences of those actions, including the human and economic suffering it causes.”
She said Russia also ignored the need for food and energy security as the world struggled to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine was invited to speak at the meeting, despite the fact that the country is not a member of the G20.
The meeting is the first in which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov faces some of his country’s most vocal critics over what Russia calls its “special operation” in Ukraine.