Chinese PM Li toasts warming trade ties in Australia

Monday, Jun 17, 2024

SYDNEY: Chinese Premier Li Qiang mixed a dash of “panda diplomacy” with a visit to a historic vineyard on Sunday to celebrate a thaw in once-icy trade ties with Australia.

The highest ranking Chinese official to visit Australia in seven years, Li’s four-day trip offers the prospect of greater trade after Beijing lifted punitive measures against a string of major Australian exports.

China is by far Australia’s biggest trading partner, taking in nearly 30 percent of its exports last year including major commodities iron ore and coal.Two-way trade reached Aus$327 billion ($216 billion) in 2023.

Setting the warmer tone, Li took a trip to Adelaide Zoo in bright sunshine and announced China would loan new “adorable” giant pandas to replace popular pair Wang Wang and Fu Ni.The Adelaide pandas, which have failed to produce offspring since their arrival in 2009, will return to China by the end of the year.

“I guess they must have missed their home a lot,” said Li, the second most powerful man in China after President Xi Jinping.The premier said China made the panda offer to honour the wishes of Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, an Adelaide resident who has worked to stabilise the relationship with Beijing.

Wong said her own children would be “very happy” at the news, which she welcomed as a “symbol of goodwill”.Li then joined Wong for a lunch at the 19th century Magill Estate vineyard, home of the original Penfolds winery and now part of the Australian global winemaker Treasury Wine Estates.

Wine was among a string of Australian exports, along with coal, timber, barley, beef, and lobsters, battered by Chinese sanctions in 2020 during a diplomatic rift with the former conservative government.

Those sanctions cost Australian exporters an estimated Aus$20 billion ($13 billion) a year, including Aus$1 billion for the wine industry. Li and Albanese are set to hold talks behind closed doors in Canberra on Monday, encompassing fractious issues of foreign influence, human rights, alleged “unsafe” behaviour by China’s military in the region, and their rivalry in the Pacific.