Progress in repairing the strained ties between Australia and China is “not satisfactory”, according to Beijing’s top diplomat.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne on the margins of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Summit in Bangkok.
“During our diplomatic and strategic dialogue in Beijing last November, we agreed to calibrate and relaunch relations between China and Australia,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
“But the process of improving our relationship has not been satisfactory.”
Mr. Wang said he hoped that China’s relations with Australia could be “put back on track as soon as possible”.
Senator Payne described the meeting as “productive” and said it was not in the interest of either country that their relationship be “defined by differences”.
“We discussed a range of issues, including our global strategic partnership, 5G, human rights issues and consular affairs,” she said in a statement.
“Of course, differences appear from time to time in all relationships. We’ll take care of it.”
China is Australia’s main trading partner, but there are a number of tensions between the two countries, particularly over the South China Sea issue.
In a joint statement issued by Senator Payne, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono after a summit meeting in Bangkok, the three countries intensified their criticism of China’s actions in the region.
“Ministers expressed serious concern about negative developments in the South China Sea, including the deployment of advanced weapon systems on disputed elements,” the statement said.
“Ministers strongly opposed unilateral coercive measures that could change the status quo and increase tensions such as land reclamation, construction of outposts, militarization of disputed elements and other measures that result in permanent physical modification of the marine environment in areas awaiting delimitation.
Ministers also expressed concern about “credible reports of disruptive activities”, which would be linked to Vietnamese oil and gas projects.
Mr. Pompeo and Senator Payne will meet again in Sydney this weekend at the annual AUSMIN summit, with Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and her American counterpart Mark Esper.
Discussions should include the possibility of Australia joining naval patrols to help protect tankers in the Persian Gulf.
The Australian government insists that it has not made a decision on whether to participate.