Don Farrell ‘very confident’ Beijing trade talks still on the agenda despite AUKUS criticism

The man tasked with stabilising trade relations with China is “very confident” both he and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will still visit China this year, despite Beijing’s strong criticism of the AUKUS deal.

But the Opposition has conceded the relationship with China is “not at its best” at the moment and AUKUS will only make it more difficult.

The AUKUS deal, announced by Mr Albanese, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US President Joe Biden will arm Australia with nuclear powered submarines – but China says the trio have embarked on a “path of error and danger”.

Beijing has vowed to diplomatically thwart the deal, announcing it would scale up its military build up in the face of feeling “penned in” by the US and its allies.

It threatens the relationship Australia has been working to rebuild, and ahead of potential visits by both Trade Minister Don Farrell and Mr Albanese to Beijing this year.

However Senator Farrell said he is still “very confident” that outstanding trade issues – including ongoing tariffs – will continue to be worked on.

Camera IconTrade Minister Don Farrell met virtually with Chinese Commerce Wang Wentao last month and accepted an invitation to travel to Beijing – potentially this year. NCA NewsWire / POOL / Lukas Coch Credit: NCA NewsWire

“I had a very good meeting a couple of weeks ago with my Chinese counterpart – it was a warm and friendly meeting, and since that time officials have been busily working away on a range of issues,” he told Sky News.

“Those will continue. I’m still very confident that … the offer to go to China (this year) is still there.”

“We want a stable relationship with China, we want a mature relationship with China, but at the same time we want to make sure that everything we do is in our national interest and dealing with the issues of our national security.”

He said neither he nor the Prime Minister had yet finalised a date for their visit, but as far as he knew the offer was still there and was hopeful it would be later this year.

Opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie said he wished Senator Farrell well with the difficult task of stabilising the trading relationship with China, but said the government needed to be realistic.

“I don’t think the relationship is at its best at the moment, and I think AUKUS is going to make it more difficult for them to get back to a place where they want it to go – so let’s wait and see,” he told Sky News, adding he didn’t want to make it a partisan issue.

Responding to CHina’s criticism, Mr Hastie echoed Senator Farrell and said there had been a change to the Indo-Pacific’s strategic situation.

“China is undergoing the biggest peacetime militarisation since the Second World War, and we have to respond to that,” he said.

“We actually want to contribute to the regional balance of power and by acquiring nuclear submarines, we will be a force for good sovereignty, and we’ll also be able to contribute to the preservation of our neighbours’ sovereignty as well.”

On Tuesday, Defence Minister Richard Marles confirmed China had been offered a briefing ahead of the AUKUS announcement, but it was unclear whether Beijing had taken up the offer.

It’s understood they have since taken up an offer to be briefed, but it hasn’t stopped Beijing from voicing strong criticism this week.

Defending Australia AUKUS nuclear subs quick guideThe Chinese mission to the UN on Tuesday used Twitter to accuse the AUKUS partners of fuelling an arms race, and the deal was a “textbook case of double standard”.

“The nuclear submarine co-operation plan released by AUKUS is a blatant act that constitutes serious nuclear proliferation risks, undermines international non-proliferation system, fuels arms races, and hurts peace and stability in the region,” the tweet said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said AUKUS had “completely disregarded the concerns of the international communities”.

“They are walking further down the path of error and danger,” they said.

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