By Joe Cash

BEIJING (Reuters) -China poses no threat to Australia, and will not do so in future, Li Zhaoxing, a former foreign minister, said on Thursday, as the two nations resumed a high-level dialogue track after a break of three years.

The talks do not include government ministers and had been held annually since 2014, but went on hold in 2020 after Beijing put curbs on dozens of Australian imports following Canberra’s call for an international inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

“Over the past decades … China has not posed any threat to Australia, and will not do so in the future. I hope the Australian side will understand this,” Li told an Australian delegation led by a former trade minister, Craig Emerson.

“Whether China-Australia relations can improve and develop further depends on whether both sides perceive each other correctly.”

Diplomatic exchanges have ramped up since Australia elected a Labor government in May 2022 and China lifted tariffs on its exports of barley.

State media said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met the Australian delegation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the capital.

China accounts for nearly a third of Australian trade, while Australia is its eighth-largest trade partner.

But Australia is still pushing for the removal of curbs on its lobster and wine exports, and the release of two of its journalists detained in China on national security charges.

Issues featuring in the Australia-China High-Level Dialogue, as the talks are formally known, include trade, investment, regional and international security, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s office said.

The dialogue is “another step in stabilising ties”, it said in a statement on Saturday.

The Australian delegation also includes former Liberal foreign minister Julie Bishop, in a bid to show bipartisan political support, it added.

“There is more work to do … the timely and full resumption of normal trade is in the interests of both our countries,” said delegation leader Emerson, while acknowledging warming ties.

“We continue to advocate for positive progress on the cases of Australians detained in China.”

In the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met Chinese Premier Li Qiang at a summit of Southeast Asian leaders.

“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 meeting Li, making reference to former leader Gough Whitlam.

(Reporting by Joe Cash; Additional reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Clarence Fernandez)

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