Australia, China Will Boost Military Communications, PM Says

(Bloomberg) -- Australia and China have agreed to improve communications between their respective armed forces in a bid to avoid future standoffs, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said after hosting Premier Li Qiang in Canberra.

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In the wake of several near-misses between Australian and Chinese vessels and aircraft, Albanese said the two governments would look at ways to boost military-to-military links “to avoid incidents.” He said there are no further details as yet, and officials will look at the best way to make the changes.

In just the past year, Australian and Chinese forces have engaged in multiple standoffs in the Asia-Pacific. In May, Canberra accused a Chinese fighter jet of firing flares near an Australian military helicopter in the Yellow Sea, just six months after a separate incident resulted in the injury of a navy diver.

Earlier Monday, Albanese greeted Premier Li in the forecourt of Australia’s Parliament House, though even a 19-gun salute couldn’t drown out the large group of people that had gathered to protest the visit. Cries of “Free Tibet” and “Free Hong Kong” could be heard as the two leaders met.

Li’s visit is the first by a Chinese premier to Australia in more than seven years and caps a rapid warming in relations between the nations. That follows several years of deteriorating ties that included accusations of foreign interference and trade disruptions.

The two countries’ differences won’t be resolved if they’re left to fester “in silence,” Albanese said at a state lunch to welcome Li. “Whatever the issue, it is always better if we deal direct with each other. And consistent, steady engagement helps build and maintain stability across our region.”

Following Li and Albanese’s meeting, the two governments signed pacts to improve cooperation on education, climate change and cultural exchanges, among others. The Chinese government also announced it would extend its visa waiver program to Australian citizens.

Li began his visit in the southern city of Adelaide on Sunday, announcing the arrival of new pandas for the city’s zoo and toured vineyards — symbolic of improved ties between the two countries — after Beijing lifted heavy tariffs on Australia’s wine industry in March.

He said relations between Australia and China are “back on track after a period of twists and turns,” according to a statement released after Li’s arrival. “A more mature, stable and fruitful comprehensive strategic partnership will be a treasure shared by the people of both countries.”

While the premier’s visit has so far been warm, with footage showing him exchanging jokes with Australian ministers and officials, there are underlying tensions between the two countries.

China is concerned about Australia further tightening security links with the US, while Albanese said he raised with Li the plight of imprisoned writer Yang Hengjun, who received a suspended death sentence in a Beijing court earlier this year.

Li will travel from Canberra to the mining state of Western Australia, where the Chinese government’s calls for greater access to Australia’s critical minerals sector are expected to take center stage.

(Updates with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s press conference)

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