China’s top diplomat meets Australian ex-PM for controversial sit-down


China’s top diplomat capped his trip to Australia Thursday with one of the most controversial meetings on his agenda, hosting outspoken ex-prime minister Paul Keating at the Chinese consulate in Sydney.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi spent an hour and five minutes with Mr. Keating, a veteran centre-left leader who has pilloried his own party in government for stirring trouble with Beijing.

In a statement to AFP, Mr. Keating said the meeting with Mr. Wang discussed “the geostrategic balances and influences in the world.”

Mr. Keating, whose push for deeper ties with Beijing was a central facet of his 1991 to 1996 term, added that the pair talked about Australia’s historic relationship with China.

They also discussed China’s urban development and Mr. Wang’s “productive” meeting with his Australian counterpart Penny Wong on Wednesday.

Mr. Keating said that Mr. Wang “was very positive” about putting bilateral difficulties aside and was encouraged by efforts to restore stability between the two countries.

“He both encouraged and welcomed Australia’s continuing integration with East Asia where he believed Australia’s future lies,” Mr. Keating said.

Mr. Wang’s trip to Australia, the first since 2017, had been pitched as an easing of troubled relations between the two countries.

But there were evident tensions over the high-profile case of an Australian prisoner being held in China, trade and a renewed crackdown on rights in Hong Kong.

Australia’s centre-left government had insisted the meeting between Mr. Wang and Mr. Keating was normal, a notion that was rejected by the conservative opposition, whose home affairs spokesman James Paterson called it a “calculated humiliation”.

“It’s not the act of a friendly nation, it’s the act of a nation which is trying to, as it has for many years, coerce and pressure us to do things which are against our national interests and consistent with theirs,” Paterson told Sky News.

Mr. Wang also made time to attend a private round table on Wednesday with business leaders, including from Rio Tinto, law and financial firms, as well as university academics, many of whom have promoted closer ties with China.

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