Australia is expected to continue its efforts to end a trade dispute with China when Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visits Beijing this year. The trip, announced Thursday, will be the first by an Australian leader to China since 2016.
Analysts said that the visit is the latest sign of improving relations between the two countries but that more work is needed to normalize ties.
Albanese’s center-left Australian government, elected in May 2022, has been eager to end friction with China, by far its biggest trading partner.
In recent years, China imposed trade sanctions on a range of Australian imports, including coal, barley and wine.
Analysts have said there have been various triggers to the diplomatic tensions, such as disagreements on human rights, Taiwan and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Australia’s previous conservative government infuriated China with its support for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. That was interpreted in Beijing as criticism of its handling of the early phases of the pandemic.
Bilateral relations are improving and some, but not all, of China’s restrictions on Australian imports have been removed.
Richard McGregor, a senior fellow for East Asia at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based research group, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that Albanese’s visit is a sign that relations are improving but not yet back to normal.
“It is obviously significant, particularly from an Australian perspective,” McGregor said. “I would not exaggerate it. It is not a reset. … We are not going back to what the relationship was previously. But I think it is a big step in the gradual stabilization of the relationship.”
Chinese tariffs on Australian wine imports remain in place. Australia has agreed to suspend its action against those restrictions at the World Trade Organization if Beijing agrees to carry out a prompt review of the barriers.
China’s demand for resources, most notably iron ore and coal, has fueled Australia’s recent prosperity.
Australia is a middle power with far-reaching security ties to the United States. It is a former British colony and one of the world’s most multicultural countries. China is its biggest trading partner.
The Albanese government has to balance these often-competing interests.
He met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, last year.
There is no confirmed date for Albanese’s Beijing trip.
The announcement followed a meeting between Albanese and the Chinese premier, Li Qiang, on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, this week.