China talks only with no preconditions: PM

Scott Morrison says he is ready and willing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but only if there are no preconditions to holding the talks.

The prime minister is refusing to cede any ground over Chinese grievances with Australia in return for restarting diplomatic dialogue.

“We will of course remain absolutely open and available to meet to discuss any of the issues that have been identified,” he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

“But those discussions, as I’ve made clear, won’t take place on the base of any sort of pre-emptive concessions on Australia’s part on those matters.

“I don’t think that any Australian would want their prime minister to be conceding the points that they’ve set out.”

Mr Morrison has also revealed he has spoken to former prime ministers John Howard and Kevin Rudd about strained Australia-China relations.

“I’m always open to those who are experienced in these areas and both of those former prime ministers are experienced in those areas,” he said.

China has launched a series of trade strikes against Australian exports in recent months and released a laundry list of issues with the relationship.

Mr Morrison said he was aware of China’s various gripes and it would be a while until leaders from the two nations met if the 14 points presented a hurdle.

The prime minister rejected claims the diplomatic relationship rapidly deteriorated last year after his government called for an investigation into the origins of coronavirus.

“It has been happening for years,” Mr Morrison told The Australian.

“The suggestion this has happened all on a dime I think is wrong. And we have seen these changes happen now for some years. The relationship has obviously changed, not over any one thing but over time.

“There have been changes where I think the sovereign position of Australia and the outlook of China, well those things have become more inconsistent.”

China is aggrieved about Australia’s foreign interference and investment laws, the exclusion of Huawei from the 5G network, and the Morrison government’s public comments about human rights abuses.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said both Australia and America’s relationships with China would be closely watched under Joe Biden’s administration.

In a column published by The Australian, she described the United States as an indispensable partner in maintaining regional security, banding countries together when any country “resorts to raw power over rules”.

“Australia will benefit in the long term if there is a network of nations, with the US as a leading participant, that consistently and with strategic sagacity makes clear what constitutes legitimate behaviour under a rules-based system, even one that is evolving to take account of the interests of rising powers,” Senator Payne wrote.

“We will support adherence to international rules and norms, promote transparency and stand against malicious behaviour such as economic coercion, human rights abuses and the use of disinformation.”

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