By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia and China have made progress in returning to “unimpeded trade” and progress should continue, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Thursday as he met Chinese Premier Li Qiang at a regional summit in Indonesia.

“The progress we have made in resuming unimpeded trade is good for both countries and we want to see that progress continue,” Albanese said in his opening comments at the meeting.

Australia’s views will not always align with China’s, “but we understand dialogue is absolutely critical”, he said.

Li said he welcomed Albanese to visit China this year, and Albanese said he would.

“I look forward to visiting China later this year to mark the 50th anniversary of Prime Minister Whitlam’s historic visit,” Albanese said in a statement after the meeting, referring to the first visit to communist China by an Australian leader, then prime minister Gough Whitlam, in 1973.

The confirmation of the Beijing visit, the first by an Australian leader to its biggest trading partner since 2016, is a significant step in stabilising ties.

Diplomatic exchanges froze in 2020 as China placed curbs on a dozen Australian exports in response to Australia’s call for an investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tension has eased since Australia elected a Labor government in 2022, and China recently lifted tariffs on Australian barley exports, although Australia wants curbs on other exports, including wine and lobster, lifted.

Iron ore sales to China are Australia’s biggest export earner, and Treasurer Jim Chalmers on Wednesday said a slowdown in China would add to pressure on Australia’s economy.

“Premier Li was positive about China’s economic outlook,” Albanese told reporters after the meeting.

Albanese said he raised human rights cases including two detained Australian journalists, Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun, telling reporters he had said Australians “want to see Cheng Lei reunited with her children”.

The discussion was focused on how all countries have an interest in a “peaceful, secure and prosperous region”, he added.

Albanese will next travel to the Philippines, making the first bilateral visit by an Australian leader in 20 years, amid renewed tension between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea.

He told reporters the Philippines “is a critical nation for Australia’s interest”, noting strong defence ties.

Australia last month held military exercises near the South China Sea with the Philippines and has said it planned joint navy patrols.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; editing by Robert Birsel)

Brought to you by www.srnnews.com