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Labor urges China to drop trade barriers

Treasurer Jim Chalmers says the first step to repair relations with China must be its removal of sanctions and tariffs on Australian exporters.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has written to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese congratulating him on his election at the weekend.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Monday it was a Labor government in the 1970s which made the “right choice” to establish diplomatic relations with China.

He said “sound and steady development of the bilateral relations” would contribute to peace, stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific and that China was ready to work with the new Labor government to “take stock of the past and stay forward-looking”.

Dr Chalmers told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday it was important China put words into actions.

“If there is to be an improvement in relations it makes sense to us for the first part of that, the first step, to be the removal of some of those sanctions and tariffs which are doing damage to our economy and to our employers and exporters,” he said.

“That would be a good place to start.”

Australian National University’s Professor Jane Golley told AAP the ball was now in Mr Albanese’s court.

“The Chinese government has made it clear they are prepared to meet us halfway in attempting to restore the relationship, but at this stage it doesn’t look like the Australian government is prepared to shift from the bipartisan line that ‘China has changed, Australia hasn’t’,” she said.

“It will take more than this to see significant moves by Beijing on the trade front.

“One possibility would be for us to withdraw some of the anti-dumping disputes that we have brought to the WTO against China, in return for their doing the same.”

Professor Golley, the director of the Australian Centre on China in the World, said smaller steps such as shifting the diplomatic tone of Australia’s rhetoric away from the “drums of war” may also have a positive impact.

But she doubted it would be enough to end all of Beijing’s trade restrictions against Australia.

She said if a compromise could be reached, the first sectors to benefit could be barley and coal, with the world facing food shortages and rising resource prices inflicted by the Ukraine-Russian war.

“But that’s just pure speculation until further negotiations can yield more give on both sides.”

Meanwhile, as China increases its diplomatic interest in Pacific island nations, Foreign Minister Penny Wong will travel to Fiji on Thursday.

“The visit, in my first week as foreign minister, demonstrates the importance we place on our relationship with Fiji and on our Pacific engagement,” she said in a statement.

“Australia will listen to our Pacific partners as we work together to face our shared challenges and achieve our shared goals – including tackling climate change, pandemic recovery, economic development and regional security.”

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