Commerce Minister Don Farrell made a surprise visit to Beijing’s Forbidden City with the head of China’s Ministry of Commerce, in a bid to boost talks ahead of Friday’s talks with his counterpart, Wang Wentao.
- Senator Farrell said he was “very honored to be invited”
- The Forbidden City was the political and cultural center of China for over 500 years and remains an important cultural center.
- The former Chinese ambassador describes the visit as “a very high-profile welcome from Beijing”.
Senator Farrell was welcomed on the visit by the ministry’s deputy director general, Peng Wei.
The unexpected call came about 4 hours before Senator Farrell was scheduled to sit down with Mr Wang.
As he entered the Forbidden City, Senator Farrell said he was “privileged to be invited here to this famous site”.
“I want to say that we really appreciate the organization of the Minister of Commerce, who I will meet this afternoon, for planning a special visit,” he said.
The magnificent 15th century building is a World Heritage site and a source of national pride.
The Forbidden City was the political and cultural center of China for over 500 years.
Although it is no longer a royal residence, it is still one of the most important cultural sites and the most visited museum in China, attracting around 80,000 visitors a day.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was seen in office in 2014, and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited in 2011.
Reclaiming relationships to guide the leadership journey
Australian officials said the visit was a “welcome development”, after suspending expectations for this afternoon’s talks aimed at ending Chinese restrictions on Australian imports.
Han Yang, a former Chinese ambassador based in Sydney, told the ABC it was “a very high-level welcome from Beijing”.
“I remember, former US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron were given this opportunity,” he said.
Professor Hans Hendrischke of the University of Sydney told the ABC that Mr Farrell’s visit to China was a “first step”.
“This visit is very important because this vision will bring prosperity and end the trade sanctions that China imposed on agriculture and other things,” Professor Hendrischke told the ABC.
“We had diplomatic problems, but we also had COVID, which has reduced trade and communication.
“All of this needs to be properly restored and re-energized and that’s where this tour is so important.
“And the other part, of course, is that this visit is to prepare for the visit of the prime minister, which is planned for the end of the year.
Jiang Yun, founding partner of the Australian Institute of International Affairs and China Matters, said the visit was part of Canberra’s “reconciliation” with Beijing, which was “reiterated openly rather than hidden”.
“Farrell’s visit to China comes after two visits,” Jiang told ABC.
“Re-engagement will culminate in a leader’s journey.”
Beijing’s political and trade stance with Canberra has changed from “Australia’s half-hearted meeting” to “China is ready to work closely with Australia,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Chinese Foreign Minister to Australia
China’s foreign minister is expected to visit Australia as relations between the two countries stabilize, two sources have confirmed to the ABC.
The visit of the minister, Qin Gang, has not been officially announced but will take place at the end of July.
Diplomatic exchanges were suspended in 2020 when China imposed restrictions on a dozen Australian products after angered by Australia’s call for an international investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tensions have eased since last May’s election, although the lack of change in China’s policy and a security shake-up have left Australia working closely with its defense partner the United States.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong visited Beijing in December.
James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) at the University of Technology Sydney, said he was aware of the July visit but could not confirm the date.
“Qin Gang’s visit to Australia is a big deal because he will be the first Chinese official to arrive since the rainy season,” Professor Laurenceson told Reuters.
“Qin Gang’s repeated visit to Australia for the 2023 Foreign and Strategic Dialogue is part of the strategy to restore bilateral dialogue.”
The talks are an annual meeting between the two countries, whose foreign ministers last met in March on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi.
At the annual G20 summit in Bali, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, ending six years of talks between the world leaders.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner, with exports worth $287 billion in 2022, led by steel exports that China cannot easily replace.
China’s ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, said in an interview with China’s Global Times newspaper on Friday that it was an important year to build relations.
“At the moment, the world’s industrial and commercial activities are closed, and commercial and financial activities continue to decline,” he said.
“China-Australia pragmatic cooperation not only helps the economic stability of the two countries, but also has a special significance for China and Australia to solve the global economic problems.”
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Additional reporting by Joyce Cheng and Bang Xiao.