Li Qiang will meet Anthony Albanese this weekend in first Australian tour by a Chinese Premier since 2017

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Katina Curtis
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Chinese Premier Li Qiang will visit a West Australian lithium refinery and meet members of the Chinese community in Perth during his three-day visit to Australia.
Chinese Premier Li Qiang will visit a West Australian lithium refinery and meet members of the Chinese community in Perth during his three-day visit to Australia. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

Chinese Premier Li Qiang will visit a West Australian lithium refinery and meet members of the Chinese community during his three-day visit to Australia.

Next week’s trip will cover Adelaide, Canberra and Perth with formal talks with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese the centrepiece as Australia seeks to further stabilise the relationship with its largest trading partner.

These are expected to encompass trade — with impediments to rock lobsters the last remaining blockages — geostrategic tensions including China’s ambitions in the Pacific region, maritime safety and consular issues such as Australia’s ongoing concern for the health of jailed writer Yang Hengjun.

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Australia has publicly called out two recent “unsafe and unprofessional” run-ins at sea with Chinese military: a Chinese jet forcing an Australian navy helicopter to take evasive action after dropping flares directly in front of it, and a separate incident where a Chinese ship used sonar pulses against naval divers.

The Government is also increasingly aiming to hedge against China’s dominance in areas such as critical minerals processing and clean energy technologies.

This will be the first visit by a Chinese premier to Australia since 2017. Foreign Minister Penny Wong hosted her counterpart Wang Yi in Canberra earlier this year while Defence Minister Richard Marles spoke with China’s Dong Jun on the sidelines of a defence summit in Singapore earlier in June.

It returns the visit Mr Albanese made to China late last year when the two countries agreed to resume regular leaders’ talks.

The Prime Minister said on Monday he welcomed the re-engagement with China.

“It’s a good thing. We want to cooperate where we can, we’ll disagree where we must, but we’ll engage in the national interest,” he said.

The visit culminates in a trip to Perth next Tuesday where the leaders will join business leaders from both countries for a forum organised by the Business Council of Australia.

This reciprocates a business roundtable discussion Mr Albanese joined when he was in Shanghai last year.

Mr Li is also expected to visit the lithium refinery at Kwinana, which is a joint venture between IGO and Chinese-owned Tianqi Lithium, along with a Fortescue facility and a diaspora community event.

Nearly 60 per cent of WA’s exports in 2023 went to China, with two-way trade worth $162.9 billion.

Iron ore accounted for $114 billion of this, up 12 per cent from the previous year, while lithium exports to China jumped by 54 per cent to be worth $18 billion.

The Chinese leader arrives in Adelaide on Saturday night and will spend Sunday morning visiting the zoo, where giant pandas Fu Ni and Wang Wang have been on loan from China since 2009.

The agreement for their stay in Australia is set to end in November and it has been anticipated they will be replaced with a breeding pair.

China recently announced it would send a new pair of pandas to the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington, after allowing an earlier loan agreement to end last November.

Mr Li will also have lunch with wine exporters and ministers Penny Wong, Murray Watt and Don Farrell to mark the lifting of Chinese tariffs on Australian wines earlier this year.

Almost all Chinese tariffs and trade impediments – bar those on rock lobster – have now been lifted as the relationship

In April, Australia sent $86 million worth of wine to China – more than the previous three years combined. Almost all of this came from South Australian vineyards.

In Canberra, Mr Li will be treated to a full ceremonial welcome at Parliament House, including a military display and visiting Governor-General David Hurley.

The Chinese Premier will also visit New Zealand next week.

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