It served as a reminder that Albanese’s visit is not as significant in Beijing as it is in Canberra, even though it was still a sign of its importance. This week’s historic journey to China by Albanese marked the first time an Australian prime minister had visited the country in seven years. Analysts, however, contend that the trip—which featured a meeting between Albanese and President Xi Jinping—was mostly focused on relieving Beijing of one issue off an ever-full plate of crises.
The official English-language state newspaper of China featured Anthony Albanese on its main page on Tuesday. Thus also did South Africa’s deputy president, Paul Mashatile, Serbia’s Ana Brnabic, Cuba’s Manuel Marrero Cruz, and Serbia’s Ana Brnabic.
According to Ryan Neelam, head of the Lowy Institute’s public opinion and foreign policy program, “[Albanese’s visit] was on China’s timing, but not its preferred terms.” “With so many issues in Australia, it was nice to have one less problem.”
Australia and China have had tense relations for many years, but China’s internal and external issues have gotten worse at the same time. Historic lows have been reached in relations with the US, and attempts at reconciliation have coincided with the shooting down of a Chinese surveillance balloon by US authorities in February. It is growing more and more cut off from the West and its allies, which are uniting to oppose Beijing’s escalating regional aggressiveness, including Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea. Its relationship with Russia has created significant challenges, and within the country, Xi is juggling political scandals, including those involving ministers, as well as issues with the economy and unemployment rate.
Simultaneously, Xi is seeking dominance on the international scene by presenting China as a responsible powerhouse rivaling the US and the head of the global south, which includes the countries whose delegates shared the front page of China Daily with Albanese.
Beijing sees several major points of contention, including Australia’s 5G network’s ban on Huawei technology, official mistrust of Chinese investment in vital infrastructure, an awkward demand for an investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, criticism of China’s regional expansionism and violations of human rights, and what Beijing perceives as Canberra’s heedless copying of its archrival, the United States.
An editorial in China Daily on Sunday stated that Beijing had shown “patience and restraint” after Australia had crossed “acceptable lines.” Beijing had hit Australia with trade tariffs and restrictions on wine, barley, lobster, and other products, which were estimated to have cost Australia’s economy billions of dollars.
Beijing’s preferred narrative had placed the blame primarily on former prime ministers, Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull before him. Although Australia’s administration has retained the same foreign policy strategy and declared that the relationship will not return to its previous state, the country’s recent political shift offered a convenient justification for a sort of restart.
Prior to Albanese’s visit, a few trade restrictions were relaxed or eliminated. Neelam stated, “China decided it was no longer in its interest to be punishing Australia for a range of things, which is the whole reason this meeting happened.”
According to Mark Harrison, a senior lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Tasmania, one important question regarding the meeting’s impact is “whether this is a reversal by Beijing on its coercive approach to Australia or part of a long game to shape the politics and policy of the Australia-China relationship.”
“I believe it is both in that Beijing is now trying to maximize the benefit to its position of removing those measures and ending its belligerent tone,” the analyst says. “Beijing’s decision to apply trade sanctions and diplomatic pressure might be seen as a failure and a misreading of Australia.”
It seems unlikely that Beijing will get its main demands from Australia fulfilled, which are for Australia to back China’s entry into Comprehensive & Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and to reduce its US alliance and involvement in the Asia-Pacific region.
In certain situations, kids will be let down; the question is how they will respond when they don’t receive their want right away and in the long run, if they don’t get their way,” Neelam added.
China’s media coverage of the visit has been overwhelmingly positive thus far. Following years of conflict, state media coverage dutifully repeated official readouts from the Chinese Communist party and government, claiming that the trip exemplified “win-win cooperation,” a “opening up of the future,” and Australia’s return to “the right path” in order to move bilateral relations ahead.
Neelam remarked, “China is very good at seizing the narrative.” In terms of domestic politics, which is what matters most to it, this would not be interpreted as China failing to meet any of its goals. This would be interpreted as the Albanese government giving in to pressure, returning to the negotiation table, and adopting a more rational and appropriate course of action.