Anthony Albanese says he’s willing to visit Beijing later in the year even if China has not released detained Australian Cheng Lei or dropped punitive trade tariffs on wine and beef.
The Prime Minister signalled dates for the trip, speculated to be for late October to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s first visit to China, were being finalised.
“I have been invited. I would like to go. We are seeking to finalise dates,” he said at The Daily Telegraph’s Bush Summit.
Mr Albanese will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of next month’s G20 leaders’ summit in India.
The pair met at the same forum last year to break the ice after a serious of disagreements with the previous Coalition government put the diplomatic relationship in the deep freeze.
Mr Albanese’s yet-to-be-confirmed trip to China was made more likely following Beijing’s decision to drop tariffs on Australian barely last week.
The government has now set its sights on pressing for the restrictions that effectively blacklist Australian wine to be scrapped.
But Mr Albanese stressed he would not make that, or the release of detained Australian journalist Cheng Lei, a condition of his visit.
“The visit to China is not a transactional relationship,” he told reporters at a press conference in Tamworth.
“I say that we need to engage in our national interest. That’s what I’m doing constructively. I have been invited to visit China. I do want to visit China.
“We will engage about a date going forward, but when a visit occurs, obviously if issues like this are off the table, it’s one less thing that we have to talk about.
“The worst thing that can happen between nations that have disagreements is that they stop talking.”
Ms Cheng, who was arrested and jailed in China three years ago, released a letter through consular officials, detailing the harsh conditions of her imprisonment.
“I miss the sun. In my cell, the sunlight shines through the window but I can stand in it for only 10 hours a year,” she wrote.
“Every year the bedding is taken into the sun for two hours to air. When it came back last time, I wrapped myself in the doona and pretended I was being hugged by my family under the sun.”
She also described her love for Australia and desire to be reunited with her two children.
At the time of her arrest she was working as a broadcast journalist at Chinese state-owned media CGTN. She has been accused of “supplying state secrets overseas”, an allegation Ms Cheng rejects.
Ms Cheng’s partner, Nick Coyle, told Sky News that he hoped she would be released soon.
Mr Albanese said the issue must be resolved.
“I believe it is clearly the case that Cheng Lei, who now has had three years in detention, this issue should be resolved,” he said.
“They should be resolved by Cheng Lei not being kept in detention in the way that she has.”