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Anthony Albanese warned against taking ‘step backwards’ on China ahead of landmark trip


Anthony Albanese will be the first Australian prime minister to visit China in seven years, but he’s been urged to consider how the trip could bolster Xi Jinping’s credibility.

The Prime Minister met with Premier Li Qiang on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Indonesia, where he formally accepted an invitation for high-level talks in Beijing.

The move has been received as another step in stabilising ties after a series of disagreements put the diplomatic relationship in the deep freeze.

But deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley said Mr Albanese must justify how such a trip “does not give (President) Xi credibility”.

“We all accept that we have to stand up continually for our national interest … Anthony Albanese cannot take a step backwards on this at any time of the engagement, either in the lead-up to it or during the event itself,” she told ABC’s RN Breakfast on Monday.

“Whether he goes or not is up to him, whether he should have gone can only be judged by whether it has aided Xi Jinping’s standing and eroded the hard-won standing of Australia in standing up to coercion – that is yet to play out.”

Ms Ley stopped short of echoing comments reportedly made by former prime minister Scott Morrison during a Coalition party room meeting last week.

In a speech to his colleagues, Mr Morrison cautioned against “the government’s acquiescent and concessional approach” towards restoring ties with China.

Mr Albanese has confirmed dates for the trip – speculated to be late October to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s first visit to China – are still being finalised.

It’s expected the Prime Minister will make a personal appeal for the release of Australians detained, including journalist Cheng Lei, and the removal of restrictions that effectively blacklist some Australian exports.

“Australia seeks to work towards productive and stable relations with China based on mutual benefit and respect,” Mr Albanese said after the meeting with Premier Li last week.

Mr Albanese had hoped to meet with Mr Xi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in India, the same forum the pair met at last year.

But the Chinese President snubbed the conference.

Malcolm Turnbull was the last Australian prime minister to visit China when he made the trip to Hangzhou in 2016.

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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.