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Albanese to be first Aussie PM to visit China in seven years



Anthony Albanese is set to become the first Australian prime minister to visit China in seven years, accepting the invitation in a high-level meeting that touched on ongoing trade disputes and the detention of several Australian citizens. 

The prime minister met with Chinese Premier Li Qiang on Thursday on the sidelines of the East Asia summit in Jakarta.

He welcomed the "frank and constructive" discussion, which came amid continued efforts by Canberra to remove billions in trade tariffs and secure the release of jailed Australian journalist Cheng Lei and writer and democracy activist Yang Hengjun.

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"I raised Cheng Lei and her case and put forward my view, which is the view, I think, that Australians have," Albanese told media in Jakarta.

"I conveyed that Australians are very much conscious of this case and they want to see Cheng Lei reunited with her children."

The diplomatic situation has thawed significantly with almost $18 billion worth of exports restored in the past year.

But China has yet to lift impediments on $2.5 billion in wine, lobster trade, some beef and hay.

Trade Minister Don Farrell on Wednesday suggested the government would consider dropping a World Trade Organisation dispute over wine in exchange for China reviewing the tariffs.

That's the same template diplomats successfully followed to get the long-blocked barley trade up and running between the two nations but Albanese said that would take more work between officials on both sides.

For its part, China welcomed Albanese's confirmation he would accept President Xi Jinping's "in principle" invitation and visit later this year.

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"China always believes that a sound and stable China-Australia relationship is in the fundamental interests of the peoples of both countries, and conducive to peace, stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific and the wider world," Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said. 

"We intend to work with Australia to deliver on the common understandings between the leaders of the two countries, uphold the spirit of mutual respect and mutual benefit, properly handle differences, and continue to improve and grow our comprehensive strategic partnership."

Malcolm Turnbull was the last Australian leader to visit China, in 2016.

Albanese's next international stop will be the Philippines, one of several neighbours in heated disagreement with China over parts of the South China Sea, where China has been building islands and aggressively patrolling in a bid to reinforce its claims.

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The prime minister wouldn't comment on the Philippines seeking support from Australia to take part in freedom of navigation exercises in the area.

"The Philippines is a critical nation for Australia's interest. We have strong economic relations with the Philippines," he said.

"We also have strong co-operation when it comes to defence arrangements, and in addition to that we have a strong diaspora in Australia."

Albanese said he discussed "regional and security issues" with Li.

"China is a major power with global interests and it was valuable to exchange views on challenges to stability, peace and prosperity in our region," he said.

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"Australia seeks to work towards productive and stable relations with China, based on mutual benefit and respect. And the discussion today was respectful. It was constructive and it was positive."

Australia, which is not a member, will host ASEAN leaders in Melbourne in March next year.

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