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Chinese foreign minister to meet former Australia PM Keating on visit
Chinese foreign minister to meet former Australia PM Keating on visit
Asia
Chinese foreign minister to meet former Australia PM Keating on visit
by DZRH News19 March 2024
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends a press conference on the sidelines of the National People's Congress (NPC), in Beijing, China March 7, 2024. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, a prominent supporter of China who has criticised Australia's AUKUS nuclear submarine deal with the U.S., said he would meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi this week in a bid to improve bilateral ties.

Keating said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters on Tuesday that Wang's visit to Australia is a "good development", and he was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss international matters with him.

Wang will meet his Australian counterpart Penny Wong and hold a roundtable with business leaders in Canberra on Wednesday, on the first visit by a Chinese foreign minister since 2017.

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's Labor government has sought to stabilise ties with its major trading partner China since coming to power in 2022, and a raft of Chinese blocks on Australian agricultural products have eased, even as sharp differences remain over regional security. China last week issued an interim decision to lift tariffs on Australian wine.

Wang is expected to hold meetings in Sydney on Thursday, although an official schedule has not been publicly released.

Former Labor Prime Minister Keating, who lives in Sydney, said he received an "unexpected invitation from the Chinese Foreign Ministry for me to meet the Foreign Minister at the end of his visit". The Australian government was assisting with arrangements, he said.

Keating, prime minister from 1991 to 1996, previously served on the board of the China Development Bank. Known for his rhetorical flourish, he has criticised Australia's intelligence agencies and politicians for drawing Australia closer to the United States with the AUKUS defence agreement, through which the U.S. and Britain will assist Australia to build nuclear powered submarines.

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The AUKUS deal was struck by the previous Liberal government of Scott Morrison, and continues to be supported by Albanese's government.

China has criticised AUKUS as "inciting military confrontation through military cooperation".

It is common for former prime ministers to meet ministers of other countries, Keating said.

"I have strongly supported the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in his desire, in his words, to re-anchor Australian foreign policy in the region," he said.

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"Australia has moved substantially from the counterproductive baiting policy the Morrison government applied to China to now something much more civil and productive," he added.

The stabilisation of relations between Canberra and Beijing was recently set back by the suspended death sentence handed to Australian blogger Yang Hengjun by a Beijing court last month, an issue likely to be raised by Wong in her meeting on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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