Penny Wong will visit China this week for the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations

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Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong will visit China this week to mark a key diplomatic milestone in the latest sign of easing tensions between the two countries.

Wong is due to arrive in Beijing on Tuesday and will attend events on Wednesday marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and China.

Related: Freezing: how real is the thawing of relations between Australia and China?

His next trip was announced on Monday, days after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese predicted “further steps and activities which indicate a much improved relationship” over the “coming weeks”.

The trip would build on “the recent constructive meeting” between Albanians and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in November, according to a statement released by the offices of the prime minister and foreign minister.

The statement said Wong will travel to Beijing “at the invitation of the People’s Republic of China to meet with State Councilor and Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi and hold the 6th Australia-China Foreign and Strategic Dialogue.” .

Wong’s predecessor, Marise Payne, last traveled to Beijing for those talks four years ago.

“In 1972, then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam made a bold decision, recognizing the importance of commitment and cooperation between our two nations and peoples,” the Australian government statement read.

“We welcome the opportunity to mark this anniversary.”

Tensions between Australia and its biggest trading partner have risen over the past five years, over a range of differences, including over human rights, national security and China’s militarization of disputed elements in the South China Sea.

Beijing has opposed the Turnbull government’s decision to ban Chinese phone company Huawei from the 5G network on national security grounds and its laws against espionage and foreign interference.

But the Morrison government’s call in 2020 for an independent international inquiry into the origins and early treatment of Covid-19 fueled an extraordinary diplomatic rift in which Beijing refused to allow phone calls or meetings between ministers and their counterparts for two years.

In 2020, China also implemented a series of steep tariffs – along with tougher screening rules and trade bans – on a range of Australian exports, including wine, barley, red meat and lobster. .

The Albanian government has repeatedly called for these restrictions to be lifted. To date, however, Trade Minister Don Farrell has been unable to secure a meeting with his counterpart to discuss trade issues.

Related: Penny Wong on stabilizing Australia-China relations

Coalition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham also visited Beijing in 2019 in his capacity as trade minister.

Birmingham welcomed Wong’s planned trip, saying it was “always counterproductive for the Chinese government to shut down the ministerial dialogue for a period of time”.

But he said the ultimate test of any dialogue would be in the results achieved.

“Minister Wong’s visit will be judged on progress towards removing unjustified tariffs and sanctions on Australian exports; achieve fair and transparent treatment of Australians currently detained in China; advancing regional security through respect for international law; and ensure greater transparency on issues of concern to human rights,” Birmingham said.

Albanese – who met Xi in November – said he was “hopeful that one of the obstacles to normal economic activity will be removed and that we will have stronger economic relations”.

An improvement in relations was “in the interest of both our countries”, but would also be “in the interest of peace and security in the region”, Albanese told Michelle Grattan of The Conversation on Friday.

Wong has met his counterpart Wang Yi twice this year – in Bali and New York – and told him, “The Australian government has changed, but our national interests and political parameters have not changed.”

Wong made it clear that the Australian government was seeking to “stabilize” the relationship while aiming for a partnership of mutual benefit and respect.

She avoids using terms like “reset” which could suggest Australia is pulling out of key policies. The Albanian government has pledged to “cooperate where we can” and to “disagree where we must”.

At the same time, the government has stepped up its engagement with the Pacific in a bid to ensure Australia remains the security partner of choice, rather than being overtaken by an increasingly active China.

Australia is also deepening its defense ties with the US, UK and Japan. Wong vowed to continue defending Australians detained in China, Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun.

“We will seek to have an engagement that allows Australia to manage its differences judiciously and we encourage China to engage with us in a way that judiciously manages the differences between our interests,” Wong said during a briefing. visit to the Pacific last week.

Related: US to increase force rotation to Australia, condemns China’s ‘dangerous and coercive actions’ in region

The freeze on ministerial talks ended soon after the change of government in Australia, when Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe agreed to meet the new Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles, in Singapore in June. They met again in Cambodia last month.

Marles pushed to restore defense dialogue between the two countries, arguing that maintaining lines of communication would reduce the risk of miscalculations.

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