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Exclusive | Premier Li’s Perth trip reflects commitment to warmer China-Australia ties

Exclusive | Premier Li’s Perth trip reflects commitment to warmer China-Australia ties
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Exclusive | China-Australia relations: Premier Li Qiang’s planned Perth trip, with big business delegation in tow, reflects commitment to warmer ties

Accompanied by the biggest Chinese business delegation that China has taken down under in seven years, Premier Li Qiang will head to Australia next month amid warming ties between the countries, according to sources.

China’s No 2 political figure will be in Perth, a Western Australian city with strong business connections to China, on June 18 to participate in a round-table discussion with company representatives.

The dialogue is expected to comprise 15 delegates from various industries and sectors on both sides, including companies dealing in energy; mining and resources; as well as green technology and transitioning.

The round-table meeting, which was agreed to by President Xi Jinping and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Beijing in November, will be hosted by the Business Council of Australia.

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The last such high-level bilateral trade and investment round-table meeting occurred in March 2017, in Sydney.

“Australian business leaders value the opportunity to meet with Premier Li,” said David Olsson, national president of the Australia China Business Council.

“As a neutral platform, the round table creates an opportunity for frank dialogue around some of the challenging issues we face, as well as areas of future cooperation,” he added, noting it remains the cornerstone for addressing collective challenges like climate change, and for supporting sustainable growth.

The Post reported in April that Li’s trip was planned for the third week of June – a visit that looks to consolidate improving economic relations between Beijing and Canberra.

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet of Australia; the Business Council of Australia; and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately reply to the Post’s requests for comments.

Information from China’s consulate in Perth showed that China has been Western Australia’s largest trading partner for 17 consecutive years.

The Western state of Australia’s total exports to China reached A$144.6 billion in the 2022-23 fiscal year, the consulate said. In total, 85 per cent of the state’s iron ore went to China, as did 99 per cent of its lithium.

“It will be an exceptional opportunity for Australian businesses to press their commercial interests and to emphasise that they remain reliable suppliers to Chinese customers,” said James Laurenceson, director at the Australia-China Relations Institute with the University of Technology in Sydney.

“The round table in Perth with Premier Li makes clear that both Canberra and Beijing see value in lending their high-level political imprimatur to deep and ongoing private-sector interactions, even [as] relations between Washington and Beijing have largely become zero-sum.”

As a hub for companies such as BHP, Rio Tinto, Fortescue and Tianqi Lithium, Perth is an export-oriented city that accounted for 47.1 per cent of national exports in the year to March 2024, according to figures from the Western Australia government.

“Australian businesses will want Premier Li to understand that they are enthusiastic supporters of stabilised political relations … given the challenges that Beijing is facing in managing economic relations with Washington and Brussels,” Laurenceson said.

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