BEIJING/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia should remove its “coloured glasses” to get relations back on track with major trading partner China, the Chinese government’s top diplomat Wang Yi has told his Australian counterpart on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Argentina.
Relations between the two countries have cooled since late 2017 when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government proposed a bill to limit foreign influence in Australia, including political donations. Beijing saw the move as “anti-China”.
The diplomatic rift spilled into the trade arena last week when a major Australian wine maker said it was facing new Chinese customs delays, raising fears among other Australian exporters that depend on access to China.
Wang told Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Monday some difficulties had affected contact and cooperation between the two countries, China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website on Tuesday.
The pair met on the sidelines of the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Buenos Aires.
“What I want to emphasise is, if the Australian side wishes the bilateral relationship to return to the right track and realise sustained healthy development, then it must abandon traditional thinking and take off its coloured glasses,” Wang was quoted as saying in the statement.
Wang said he had noted an improvement in tone from Bishop and the Australian government.
In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Tuesday, Bishop said she had a “very warm and candid and constructive discussion” with Wang.
“While we stand up for our values and our interests and our policies and we can disagree with friends from time-to-time, most certainly the relationship is strong and we discussed ways on how we could cooperate further,” she said.
A visit to Shanghai last week by Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo was seen as a bid to mend a relationship that included A$170 billion ($128 billion)in two-way trade last year.
But Ciobo’s visit was overshadowed by delays at Chinese customs that held up exports by Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates Ltd.
An Australian source familiar with the meeting between Bishop and Wang said it had focused on regional security and trade, and the Treasury Wine issue was not specifically discussed.
Several unidentified Australian business owners who operate in China told Fairfax Media on the weekend that Chinese authorities had been unfairly targeting Australian products with delays and extra scrutiny at customs and distribution.
Turnbull, who in December cited “disturbing reports about Chinese influence” and promised to stand up to Beijing, will travel to China later this year to smooth over bumpy diplomatic ties, Fairfax Media reported.
Wang, who is a state councillor as well as China’s foreign minister, said on Monday China “never interferes with the internal politics of other countries, let alone carry out the so-called infiltration of other countries”.
($1 = 1.3201 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Philip Wen in BEIJING and Colin Packham in SYDNEY; Editing by Darren Schuettler)