Australia’s prime minister hopes to meet China’s Xi at the summit

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Wednesday that a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping would be a “positive thing” if it could be agreed on the sidelines of a leaders’ summit in Southeast Asia this month.

Albanese’s shift from neutral on the prospect of his first meeting with the Chinese leader suggests the Australian leader expects talks to happen.

“I made it clear that dialogue is a good thing, so if a meeting with Xi is agreed, then that would be a positive thing,” Albanese told reporters.

Albanese leaves Australia on Friday for an East Asia summit in Cambodia, followed by a Group of 20 meeting in Indonesia, then a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Thailand.

Albanese said his office is organizing “a series of meetings” with “various leaders,” which will be announced when details are finalized.

Relations between China and Australia have shown signs of thawing since May, when the center-left Albanian Labor Party won elections for the first time in nine years. Beijing immediately eased the ban on contacts between ministers.

Albanese called on China to show good faith to its new government by removing a range of official and unofficial trade barriers that cost Australian exporters about A$20 billion ($13 billion) a year. But China has shown no signs of easing trade restrictions.

China’s ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, said in August that Beijing would discuss with Australia whether conditions were right in November for Albanese to meet Xi in Indonesia during the G-20 summit. Xi is not expected to attend the East Asia summit.

The meeting will come as competition for influence among the South Pacific island nations between Australia and China intensifies since Beijing struck a security pact with the Solomon Islands earlier this year, sparking fears of a Chinese naval base in the region.

Bilateral relations with Australia’s previous conservative government have soured over issues including Australia’s demands for an independent investigation into the COVID-19 pandemic and the banning of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from Australia’s 5G networks over security concerns.

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