China will resume its import of Australian timber immediately in the latest sign the diplomatic relationship is on the mend.
In a wide-ranging press conference on Thursday, China’s top diplomat in Australia confirmed the trade breakthrough after three years of limbo.
And, in a further sign of improvement, Chinese ambassador Xiao Qian said Chinese President Xi Jinping’s office was working with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s team to find a date for Mr Albanese to visit Beijing.
“Yesterday, the Chinese customs has formally notified the Australian Minister of Agriculture that starting from today China will resume import of Australian timbers,” he told reporters.
The news of a trade breakthrough came as Mr Xiao, in a rare media appearance, hit out at Australia, and its Quad and AUKUS partners over their perception of China as a threat, which the ambassador maintains it is not.
The Quad which was due to be held next week in Sydney, has long been criticised and opposed by China.
Us President Joe Biden was forced to abandon his plans to travel to Australia next week to attend the third annual leaders’ summit due to domestic matters, prompting the entire summit to be abandoned with leaders instead to meet on the sidelines of the G7 in Japan this weekend.
Mr Xiao would not be drawn on Mr Biden’s decision to cancel his trip, or even Australia’s decision to host the since-scrapped event in the first place, but said he hoped China would be better considered in the future.
“Our position which is pretty clear, we hope that the members of the Quad, and especially Australia as a friendly partner to China, would take into consideration Australia’s interests to keep taking into consideration the relationship with China,” he said.
“And would manage in a way that the ongoing improvement of the relationship will not be affected by whatever outside forces or factors …
“I’m looking forward to continuing to communicate with the Australian side on this issue as I have been doing over the last couple of weeks.”
On the Solomon Islands security pact Beijing signed last year, Mr Xiao said it was purely for “social stability” and not Defence.
“The relationship between China and Pacific Island countries is conducive to peace and stability and prosperity in the region,” he said.
Ramping up his criticism of AUKUS, Mr Xiao said Australia’s continued targeting of China as a threat was “unfounded and absolutely necessary”.
“In my view China is not a threat and will not be a threat,” he said.
“And to spend a huge amount of money on unnecessary Defence equipment while targeting China as a potential threat is unfounded.
“I think AUKUS is not a good idea … It is an unnecessary consumption of the hardworking Australian taxpayers’ money.”
Asked whether he believed the release of Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who has been held in detention for more than two years on charges of spying, was “critical” to re-establishing bilateral relations, Mr Xiao said he believed there were a variety of issues that made the relationship unstable, but there was room for the two sides to negotiate and find solutions.
“Her case is different in the sense that it is not for the (Australian) government to make a decision – it is for the Chinese legal authorities to make based on their rules and laws,” he said.
He said he had “personal sympathy” for Ms Lei, and hoped there would be a solution “as early as possible”.
In the same media appearance, Mr Xiao said Taiwan would “come back to the motherland”.
“I look forward to our Australian friends and other international community with China … who also supports China’s unification,” he said.
Australia, which abides by the One China policy, supports no unilateral change to the status quo.