CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Wednesday a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping would be a “positive thing” if one can be arranged on the sidelines of one of the leaders’ summits to be held in Southeast Asia this month.
Albanese’s shift from neutral language about the prospects of his first meeting with the Chinese leader suggests the Australian leader expects that talks will take place.
“I’ve made it very clear that dialogue is a good thing, and so if a meeting is arranged with Xi, then that would be a positive thing,” Albanese told reporters.
Albanese leaves Australia on Friday for an East Asia Summit in Cambodia, followed by a Group of 20 meeting in Indonesia, then an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meeting in Thailand.
Albanese said his office was organizing a “range of meetings” with “various leaders,” which would be announced when details were finalized.
China-Australia relations have shown signs of thawing since May when Albanese’s center-left Labor Party won elections for the first time in nine years. Beijing immediately relaxed a ban on minister-to-minister contacts.
Albanese has urged China to demonstrate good faith toward his new government by lifting a series of official and unofficial trade barriers that is costing Australian exporters an estimated 20 billion Australian dollars ($13 billion) a year. But China has shown no signs of easing trade restrictions.
China’s Ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian said in August that Beijing would discuss with Australia whether conditions were right in November for Albanese to meet Xi in Indonesia during the G-20 summit. Xi is not expected to attend the East Asia Summit.
The meeting would come as competition for influence among South Pacific island nations heightens between Australia and China since Beijing struck a security pact with the Solomon Islands early this year that has raised fears of a Chinese naval base being established in the region.
Bilateral relations with Australia’s previous conservative government soured over issues including Australian demands for an independent inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic and a ban on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei’s involvement in the Australian 5G networks on security grounds.