G20: Australia and China End High-level Diplomatic Freeze

Kareem Salem

Tuesday’s Nov. 15 meeting on the sidelines of the G20 marks an important step in restoring bilateral relations ahead of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties next month.

Source: Adobe Stock

Xi Jinping hosted Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for a friendly exchange at the Mulia Resort, a luxury hotel in Nusa Dua, Indonesia.

The last Australian prime minister to hold a full formal meeting with China’s president-for-life was Malcolm Turnbull in 2016. 

Australia’s diplomatic ties with China have endured an uneasy ride since then. The deterioration in relations notably reached its nadir after 2020, when then Foreign Minister Marise Payne unexpectedly announced in April of that year that Australia would push for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19. China responded with $20 billion in trade sanctions on many Australian products, including barley, beef and wine.

As they got down to business, Xi and Albanese sat across from each other at long tables, both men communicating with the help of interpreters. In their opening statements, the pair referred to their nations’ recent unsettled relationship. Xi said that ties had “experienced some difficulties,” a judgement echoed by Albanese in almost exact terms. There was no apology from either side for past behavior or any hint of willingness to cede ground on fundamental differences: regional security, trade, and human rights.

“Australia seeks a stable relationship with China.” Albanese said, “We have big differences to manage, but we’re always going to be better off when we have dialogue and we are able to talk constructively and respectfully, but also honestly, about what those differences are.”

The meeting concluded after nearly half an hour. It remains to be seen whether formal leader level meetings will become normalised.

Question for future reflection:

How long will the strategic pause in tensions last?

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G20: Australia and China …

by Kareem Salem time to read: 1 min