Morrison pushes for ‘mature’ China meeting

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is continuing to push for a meeting with his Chinese counterpart to discuss an increasingly bitter trade and diplomatic dispute.

Mr Morrison has not spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping for 18 months. The pair last spoke during a G20 Summit at Osaka in June 2019.

China has recently launched trade strikes and tariffs on $20 billion worth of lucrative Australian exports including beef, wine and barley.

Live seafood, cotton, timber and coal have also been caught in the crosshairs.

Australia has thrown a counter-punch, launching a World Trade Organisation challenge after China slapped steep tariffs on barley.

More appeals could be in the pipeline.

With Chinese ministers still refusing to take calls from their Australian counterparts, there is no end in sight for problems plaguing the relationship.

Mr Morrison said Australia was always looking for opportunities to discuss the tensions, but agreeing to meet was a matter for the Chinese government.

He continues to stress Australia will not compromise its values to get trade ties back on track.

“It’s important for us to maturely discuss the issues that are present,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“But it’s also important that Australia continues to act in its own interests, in our national interests, in our sovereign interests, and we’ll of course do that.”

The prime minister said it was important to understand the relationship was not one-way traffic.

“The relationship between Australia and China is a mutually beneficial relationship and the current tensions are of no value to China or Australia,” Mr Morrison said.

“It is not assisting either of us, and so that is why it is important that we work through these issues and we’re very happy to do so.”

The man who signed an Australian trade deal with China believes the decimated relationship can slowly be salvaged.

Former trade minister Andrew Robb says despite the nose-diving political relationship and string of trade strikes, commercial links have never been stronger.

China has targeted a laundry list of Australian consumables but is still buying shiploads of iron ore.

Mr Robb says two-way trade has doubled since he signed the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement five years ago.

He believes diplomatic tensions boil down to a “major misunderstanding”: China thinks the United States is trying to contain its rise, and assumes that Australia is doing America’s bidding.

Mr Robb says Australian leaders must take every opportunity to emphasise they make independent, sovereign decisions and want China to succeed.

“We’ve got to be patient, we’ve got to focus on the positives, the complementary nature of our trading relationship,” he told ABC radio.

“What we do well China needs, and what China does well we need.”

Mr Robb, who has various business links in China, concedes the recent trade strikes on Australian exports have been deeply disruptive.

“We have to try and work past that and get those opportunities back again, look for opportunities to work together on different things, keep the door open, avoid the megaphone,” he said.

“If we can do these sorts of things and be patient, because the level of distrust is fairly significant at this stage, time will heal it.

“We will get back to some sense of normality but we have to be patient and disciplined in how we do that.”

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