Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has invited China’s President Xi Jinping to visit Australia as the two leaders “worked out some problems” in a face-to-face meeting in Beijing.
Albanese declared his high-level talks with Xi “very successful” while the Chinese president said they were ushering a new era in relations.
The prime minister met with the Chinese president in the Great Hall of the People on Monday evening (AEDT) for more than an hour.
Xi cracked a rare smile and gave a warm handshake upon greeting Albanese to the Chinese seat of power.
Albanese was the first Australian prime minister in almost seven years to land in China following strained relations between Beijing and the previous Morrison government which resulted in tit-for-tat trade and diplomatic reprisals.
The last time Xi visited Australia was in 2014 when he attended the G20 summit in Brisbane.
After meeting with Albanese, Xi said Beijing and Canberra had “worked out some problems”.
He referenced points of contention including human rights, escalation of threats against Taiwan and trade bans on Australian exports worth $20 billion at their height.
In his opening remarks, Xi praised the prime minister for working to stabilise and improve relations with China.
“Now the China-Australia relationship has embarked on the right path of improvement and development,” the Chinese leader told the Australian delegation.
“I’m heartened to see that.
“A healthy and stable China relationship serves the common interests of our two countries and two peoples.”
Albanese’s trip coincided with the anniversary of Gough Whitlam establishing relations between China and Australia 50 years ago.
Xi paid tribute to the former Labor prime minister’s visit.
“In China, we often say when drinking water we should not forget those who dug the well,” he said.
“The Chinese people will not forget prime minister Whitlam for digging the well for us.”
Albanese described the meeting as “warm” and “very successful”.
“What we have done is continue to put forward Australia’s position in a principled way, in a clear way, but in a way that hasn’t sought to amplify differences to score a political point,” he said.
The prime minister will meet with Chinese Premier Li Qiang on Tuesday at the Great Hall of the People, where he will receive a ceremonial welcome on the last day of his trip to China.
Albanese earlier on Monday said the Chinese leader had always acted on his word, but stopped short of saying he trusted him.
“He has never said anything to me that hasn’t been done,” he said.
“But we deal with each other on face value.”
Less than two weeks ago, US President Joe Biden told Albanese when it came to the Chinese government to “trust but verify”.
The government has taken a patient approach in its bid to stabilise the relationship with Beijing after a diplomatic deep freeze.
At the height of tensions between the two nations in 2020, China imposed punitive trade sanctions on Australian exports worth $20 billion. Only $2 billion now remains.
The Prime Minister toured the Temple of Heaven in Beijing on Monday afternoon AEDT, marking the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s visit.
Retracing the footsteps of the Labor prime minister, Albanese turned down an offer to lean against the Echo Wall and recreate the iconic photo of Whitlam.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong joined Albanese on his tour of the Chinese historical landmark, standing beside him at the Echo Wall and walking side by side with him through the temple.
Mr Albanese reaffirmed the government’s commitment to the AUKUS security pact, amid tensions in the Indo-Pacific between the US and China.
“We’ve been upfront about our engagement,” he said.
Speaking in Shanghai on the first day of his trip, Albanese reaffirmed Australia’s support for rules-based trade and the World Trade Organisation, which he described as an independent umpire.
Chinese Premier Li Qiang opened a major trade show by pledging Beijing’s support for international rules and rejecting protectionism.
Albanese would not rule out backing China’s application to join the 12-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“What we’ve said is any country must demonstrate that it can meet the high standards of the agreement and that is the basis of that going forward,” he said.
Albanese is the first Australian prime minister in seven years to set foot in the country.
Former Australian ambassador to China Geoff Raby said the meeting with Xi gave Australia a chance to look to the future of ties with the Asian nation.
“This is a period to look ahead in the relationship, put the issues that have been so divisive to one side,” he told ABC radio on Monday.
“In conversation with the president, of course, we would expect the prime minister will make Australia’s position on these issues very clear.”
Senior fellow at the Lowy Institute Richard McGregor said while the federal government had helped stabilise relations, China was always willing to come to the table.
“The government really has been pushing at an open door. In other words, China was very amenable to stabilising the relationship,” he told ABC radio.
“We can build relationships in a way, but we are a close United States ally. Over the course of the falling-out with China, we’ve become a closer (ally to the US).”