The Australian and Chinese defense ministers met on Sunday for the first time in three years, and after a period of tense relations, the meeting was described as an “important first step.”
Richard Mars, who was inaugurated by the centre-left government in May, met with China’s Wei Fenghe for more than an hour beside the Shangri-La Dialogue Security Summit in Singapore.
Mars described the meeting as an “important first step” and “very important.”
“It was an opportunity for a very frank and complete exchange that raised many concerns for Australia,” said Marls, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister.
The Chinese government did not provide comments immediately after the meeting.
Beijing-Canberra relations have been cold in recent years after the latter called for an independent investigation into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic and banned telecommunications giant Huawei from building Australia’s 5G network. It has become.
Australia’s largest trading partner, China, has responded by imposing tariffs and disrupting more than 12 major industries, including wine, barley and coal.
Mars said the recent interception of Australian patrol aircraft in international airspace by Chinese military aircraft and Australia’s “maintaining interest in the Pacific” were among the topics discussed.
This includes Australia’s focus on “keeping Pacific nations out of the position of promoting militarization,” he said.
-‘Change in tone’-
The incident of patrol aircraft, described by Canberra as “extremely dangerous,” occurred on May 26, when a Chinese aircraft intercepted an Australian jet and released a cloud of small aluminum strips called chaff.
Australia is vying for influence with China among the states of the Pacific Islands. The new government has caught up after long-standing relations have deteriorated as former Australian leaders stumbled upon climate change.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has recently visited the region, and although he was unable to secure support for the region’s security agreement, he still signed a series of contracts.
Australia’s new Foreign Minister Penny Wong has visited the Pacific Islands since taking office.
Mars emphasized the importance of “open dialogue” with China.
“The relationship between Australia and China is complex, and it is really important that we are now engaged in dialogue because of this complexity.”
Asked about the next steps, he said Australia “wants to act in a very calm and very cautious way. We do not underestimate the difficulties we face in bilateral relations.”
“Although there is a change in tone, there is no change in the nature of Australia’s national interest,” he emphasized.