Australia seeks to resolve trade issues with China as foreign minister arrives in Beijing

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO Chinese and Australian flags are pictured in this illustration, July 21, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Renju Jose

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Tuesday said she would push China to lift trade sanctions and allow consular access to two Australians detained during a trip to Beijing. aimed at mending strained diplomatic relations.

But Wong, who is expected to meet his counterpart Wang Yi on Wednesday, has downplayed expectations of any immediate breakthrough.

“Many relationship problems will take time to resolve for our benefit,” Wong told a news conference in Canberra before departing for China. “This will take time, but I see this visit as another step on the road.”

Mr Wong’s visit is the first by an Australian minister since 2019 and will mark the first official talks in Beijing between the two countries’ top diplomats since 2018.

Bilateral relations fractured after Canberra banned Huawei Technologies from its 5G broadband network in 2018 and called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19. Beijing has responded with tariffs on some Australian products.

The Labor Government, back in power in May after nine years, is looking to mend ties with its top trading partner. A meeting between Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 in Bali last month signaled some thaw in relations.

Australia is seeking consular access for journalist Cheng Lei and writer Yang Hengjun, who are being held in China and awaiting sentencing after closed-door national security trials.

A spokesman for Australia’s foreign affairs department said the federal government had received no advice from Chinese authorities regarding “any imminent trial outcome” for the two.

Wong will also attend the sixth Australia-China Foreign and Strategic Dialogue in Beijing, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

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