Door is still open: Marles sees meeting as first step to diplomatic thaw

Australia is open to further diplomatic meetings with China, with Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles indicating the door was still open to more discussions.

Jun 14, 2022, updated Jun 14, 2022
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles speaks to media. (AAP Image/James Ross)

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles speaks to media. (AAP Image/James Ross)

Marles said that even though there was a long way to go before regular communication with China restarted, the resumption of ministerial talks was an important first step.

The defence minister spoke with his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe at a recent international forum in Singapore, the first such meeting after an almost three-year freeze.

“There was a desire in the meeting that we had, on both sides, to have the relationship put in a better place,” he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

“The door is open to having further meetings, but I think we do need to understand that the relationship has not been in a good place at all, and this is only the first step and there’s still a long way to go.”

Relations between China and Australia have been in a deep freeze since Australia called for an investigation into the origins of Covid-19, which triggered disputes with Australia’s largest trading partner.

While the talks with China have come after a change of government in Australia, Marles said there was no change in policy.

“We want to assert our rights in places like the South China Sea, we see the importance of a global, rules-based order in the Pacific,” he said.

“We’re going to go about our relations with China, but our relations with the whole world in a way which is professional, where we understand the importance of dialogue where we believe in the power of diplomacy.”

The deputy prime minister is currently in Japan for a three-day visit.

He will hold talks with his Japanese defence counterpart Nobuo Kishi and Indo-Pacific issues are expected to be on the agenda.

There have been growing tensions in the region after China signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands, and sought similar bilateral deals with other nations in the region.

Marles said Australia wanted to work closely with the Solomon Islands, following talks between himself and the country’s defence minister.

“We have to be their natural partner of choice,” he said.

“We understand that that’s not something we get by right, we need to do the work.”

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