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Australia's former Trade Minister Craig Emerson, left, and China's former Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing at the 7th China-Australia High Level Dialogue at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on September 7, 2023. Image Credit: AP

JAKARTA: Australia’s prime minister confirmed on Thursday he will visit China later this year after talks with China’s premier, who said Beijing was ready to resume bilateral exchanges after years of friction.

The announcement by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on the sidelines of a Southeast Asia summit in Indonesia came after a years-long break in relations over political and economic issues including Chinese sanctions on Australian imports.

“I... confirmed the invitation from President Xi,” Albanese told reporters after talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, adding he “will visit China later this year at a mutually agreeable time”.

The trip would be the first to China by an Australian prime minister since 2016.

Li told Albanese China was ready to work with Australia to resume exchanges in different areas, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported, without mentioning specific areas.

He said the Asia-Pacific region was the shared home of both countries and Beijing would work with Australia to safeguard peace and stability in the region, according to Xinhua.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Beijing welcomed the planned visit and that “a healthy and stable China-Australia relationship serves the fundamental interests of the two peoples”.

Albanese thanked President Xi Jinping for the invitation and said his talks with Li were “constructive” and “positive”, adding the two countries needed more dialogue to improve relations.

“This was an important meeting. I told premier Li that we would continue to cooperate where we can, disagree where we must and engage in our national interest,” he said.

Albanese last met Xi on the sidelines of the G20 summit on the Indonesian resort island of Bali in November.

Australian delegation in China

Australia sent a delegation of industry, government, academic, media and arts representatives to Beijing on Thursday for talks with their Chinese counterparts.

Such exchanges were stopped in 2020 and their resumption is the latest sign of a thaw.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said last week those renewed discussions illustrated “another step towards increasing bilateral engagement and stabilising our relationship with China”.

China was angered by Australia’s legislation against overseas influence operations, its ban on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from 5G contracts, and its call for an independent investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But relations appear to have warmed since the centre-left government in Canberra adopted a less confrontational approach to China following Albanese’s election victory last year.