Sydney, Australia, Jun 14 (EFE).- Australia is “open” to diplomatic meetings with China to resolve bilateral tensions, the country’s deputy prime minister said Tuesday.
Richard Marles made these remarks two days after he held talks with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe.
Marles, who doubles as defense minister, met Wei in Singapore at a bilateral meeting held on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Defense Summit in Singapore.
“There was a desire in the meeting that we had, on both sides, to have the relationship put in a better place,” Marles, currently in Tokyo, told Australian public broadcaster ABC on Tuesday.
“The door is open to having further meetings, but I think we do need to understand that the relationship has not been in a good place at all, and this is only the first step and there’s still a long way to go,” he added.
This meeting between Marles and Wei, the first high-level political contact between both nations since January 2020 – according to ABC – took place a few weeks after a change in the Australian administration, led by Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese. This followed nine years of conservative coalition governments that clashed head-on with China.
Marles said Australia would maintain its policy of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, an area over which Beijing claims sovereignty, as well as the rule of law in the Pacific amid fears of a potential militarization of the region by China.
“We want to assert our rights in places like the South China Sea; we see the importance of a global, rules-based order in the Pacific,” he said.
“We’re going to go about our relations with China, but our relations with the whole world in a way which is professional, where we understand the importance of dialog where we believe in the power of diplomacy,” added the Australian minister, who is on a three-day visit to Japan.
Relations between Australia and China began to cool in 2020 following several disagreements, including the exclusion on security grounds of Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from Australian 5G networks.
Relations have since deteriorated due to issues such as China’s expanding militarization and the approval in Australia of laws against foreign interference and espionage, after Chinese donations to politicians and cyberattacks on state agencies and universities, attributed to China, were discovered.
China – Australia’s biggest trading partner – was particularly upset by its request for an independent investigation into the origin of Covid-19 and responded by imposing import tariffs on several Australian products.
In the latest confrontation between the two, China intercepted an Australian military surveillance plane on May 26 over the South China Sea. This is a strategic area through which 80 percent of world’s trade moves and where Beijing’s claims clash with half a dozen countries, including Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. EFE