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Don Farrell ‘hopeful’ Beijing trade talks continue despite China’s AUKUS criticism


The man charged with stabilizing trade ties with China is “very confident” that both he and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will visit China this year, despite Beijing’s strong criticism of the AUKUS deal.

But the opposition has admitted that the relationship with China is currently “not at its best” and AUKUS will only make things more difficult.

The AUKUS deal, announced by Mr Albanese, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US President Joe Biden, will arm Australia with nuclear-powered submarines – but China says the trio has embarked on a “path of error and danger”.

Beijing has vowed to thwart the deal diplomatically, announcing it would scale up its military buildup despite feeling “boxed in” by the US and its allies.

It threatens the relationship Australia has been trying to build, and ahead of possible visits by both Commerce Secretary Don Farrell and Mr Albanese to Beijing this year.

However, Senator Farrell said he is still “very confident” that work will continue on outstanding trade issues — including pending tariffs.

“I had a very good meeting with my Chinese counterpart a few weeks ago – it was a warm and friendly meeting and officials have been busy working out a range of issues ever since,” he told Sky News.

“They continue. I am still very confident that … the offer to go to China (this year) is still there.”

“We want a stable relationship with China, we want a mature relationship with China, but at the same time we want to make sure that everything we do is in our national interest and address the issues of our national security.”

He said neither he nor the prime minister had yet set a date for their visit, but as far as he knew the offer was still out and he hoped it would be later this year.

Opposition spokesman Andrew Hastie said he wished Senator Farrell well with the difficult task of stabilizing the trade relationship with China, but said the administration needed to be realistic.

“I don’t think the relationship is at its best at the moment, and I think AUKUS will make it harder for them to get back to a place they want to go – so let’s wait and see,” he told Sky News, adding that he didn’t want to make it a partisan issue.

In response to China’s criticism, Mr. Hastie echoed Senator Farrell and said there had been a change in the strategic situation of the Indo-Pacific.

“China is undergoing the greatest peacetime militarization since World War II, and we need to respond to that,” he said.

“We actually want to contribute to the regional balance of power and through the acquisition of nuclear submarines we will be a force for good sovereignty, and we will also be able to contribute to the preservation of the sovereignty of our neighbors.”

On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Richard Marles confirmed that China had been briefed ahead of the AUKUS announcement, but it was unclear whether Beijing had taken up the offer.

It is understood that they have since taken up an offer to be briefed, but it has not stopped Beijing from issuing strong criticism this week.

China’s mission to the UN on Tuesday used Twitter to accuse AUKUS partners of fueling an arms race, and the deal was a “textbook example of double standards”.

“The nuclear submarine cooperation plan released by AUKUS is a flagrant act that poses serious nuclear proliferation risks, undermines the international non-proliferation system, fuels arms races and harms peace and stability in the region,” the tweet read.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said AUKUS had “completely ignored the concerns of the international communities”.

“They continue in the path of error and danger,” they said.

Anthony Albanian China

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.