Increased dialogue between Australia and China is an important step forward but needs to be followed up with concrete action, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says.
Mr Albanese said Beijing had changed and become more aggressive under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, after Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles ended the diplomatic freeze by meeting with his Chinese counterpart.
“It’s always a good thing that people have dialogue and have discussion and it’s been something that’s been missing in the last few years,” Mr Albanese said in Brisbane on Tuesday.
“But there needs to be concrete steps taken forward. It’s China that’s changed the nature of the relationship.
“China needs to remove the sanctions that they have put in place. There’s no reason for them to be there.”
Australia had fulfilled all of its contractual obligations, he said.
Mr Albanese, who has responded to a congratulatory message from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, said while Australia wanted a trading relationship with China, it would not compromise its values.
It came after Mr Marles said he was open to further diplomatic meetings with China.
Mr Marles said that even though there was a long way to go before regular communication with China restarted, the resumption of ministerial talks was an important first step.
He spoke with his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe at a recent international forum in Singapore, the first such meeting after an almost three-year freeze.
“There was a desire in the meeting that we had, on both sides, to have the relationship put in a better place,” Mr Marles told ABC Radio 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.”
Relations between China and Australia have been in a deep freeze since Australia called for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19, which triggered disputes with Australia’s largest trading partner.
While the talks with China have come after a change of government in Australia, Mr Marles said there was no change in policy.
“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 … our relations with the whole world in a way which is professional, where we understand the importance of dialogue, where we believe in the power of diplomacy.”
Mr Marles is in Japan for a three-day visit.
He will hold talks with his Japanese defence counterpart Nobuo Kishi and Indo-Pacific issues are expected to be on the agenda.
There have been growing tensions in the region after China signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands, and sought similar bilateral deals with other nations in the region.
Mr Marles said Australia wanted to work closely with the Solomons, following talks between himself and the country’s defence minister.
“We have to be their natural partner of choice,” he said.
“We understand that that’s not something we get by right, we need to do the work.”