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Key takeaways from Li Qiang's visits to Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia

Zhao Yuan

Chinese Premier Li Qiang has just concluded his tour to three Asia-Pacific countries: New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia.

In his first visits to these countries since assuming post in March 2023, Li's trip yielded fruitful outcomes in terms of stabilizing ties and expanding cooperation, according to experts.

Despite complications, China-Australia ties not defined by differences

Li's visit to Australia, the first by a Chinese premier in seven years, attracted wide attention. The relationship fell into a deep freeze under the previous Australian government.

During his four-day visit, Li stressed on many occasions that China-Australia ties are back on the right track of sound and stable development.

He noted that the most important lessons from the past decade of China-Australia relations are that the two sides should respect each other, seek common ground while shelving differences, and engage in mutually beneficial cooperation.

A statement on the joint outcomes of the Annual Leaders' Meeting, co-chaired by Li and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, said that the two sides "reiterated the importance of a mature, stable and constructive bilateral relationship," and agreed that they would "continue to navigate their differences wisely."

"One of the major consensus of understanding between the two sides during the visit is that while recognizing the relationship is complicated, [as] there are differences, competition as well as cooperation, their relationship should not be defined by differences, but rather the two sides should work together for cooperation and at the same time find a way to address these differences," said Rong Ying, senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, in an interview with CGTN.

Rong added that the trip also showcases great vision between the two sides to further push the relationship to a more solid and grounded level.

Echoing Rong, Geoffrey Hawker, head of the Political and International Relations School at Australia's Macquarie University, said the achievements of Li's visit show a maturity in bilateral relations. "The nations had those differences ... but we've reflected, and we are able to move on from that."

"I am very pleased, and I think most Australians are, that this is a historical period behind us, and we've got back to where we were," said Hawker.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang addresses a welcome banquet held by the Chinese community in Australia, Perth, Australia, June 18, 2024. /Xinhua
Chinese Premier Li Qiang addresses a welcome banquet held by the Chinese community in Australia, Perth, Australia, June 18, 2024. /Xinhua

Chinese Premier Li Qiang addresses a welcome banquet held by the Chinese community in Australia, Perth, Australia, June 18, 2024. /Xinhua

Trade, investment, people-to-people exchanges

While in Australia, Li said China is ready to work with the country in such mechanisms as the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue, expand trade, and broaden cooperation in areas like new energy vehicles and renewable energy power generation.

Multiple bilateral cooperation documents on strategic economic dialogue and an MoU to further promote the implementation of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement were also signed.

In New Zealand, the first stop of his three-nation trip, Li said China wants to continue its traditional friendship with the country in the spirit of "striving to be the first" to further upgrade their comprehensive strategic partnership.

New Zealand was one of the first Western countries to establish diplomatic relations with China and the first developed nation to sign and implement a bilateral free trade agreement with China. Additionally, it was also the first Western developed country to recognize China's full market economy status.

During the trip, Li urged the two sides to continue to scale up trade, tap into the potential of cooperation in such fields as digital economy, green economy, new energy vehicles and creative industry, and jointly promote regional economic cooperation.

"One common goal for Premier Li's visits to Australia and New Zealand is to increase trust, dispel doubts and deepen cooperation," Sun Chang, researcher on Southeast Asian and Oceanian studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told CGTN.

Overall, Li's visits have yielded fruitful results, promoting stability and development in bilateral ties, as well as regional and international cooperation, on the basis of enhanced mutual trust, said Sun.

Malaysia marked the last stop of Li's trip, where the Chinese premier and Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim witnessed the exchange of bilateral cooperation documents in such areas as trade, science and technology, culture, tourism, postal service, agricultural export to China, digital economy, green development, urban development and higher education.

"The [trip] affirmed that both sides will consolidate bilateral relations, particularly reflected in the consolidation and deepening of economic linkages, ”Majid Khan, a professor at the University of Malaya, told CGTN regarding Li's visit to Malaysia.

Besides economic cooperation, Li also called for efforts in promoting people-to-people exchanges during each of his visits, which was punctuated by China's moves on visa facilitation.

Li announced that China will include Australia and New Zealand in its visa-free policy. China and Australia also agreed to provide each other with reciprocal access to multiple-entry visas of up to three - five years' duration for tourism, business and visiting family members.

When Li was in Malaysia, China on Thursday agreed to extend its visa exemption policy for Malaysian citizens until the end of 2025, while the Malaysian side said it would extend the visa exemption policy for Chinese citizens until the end of 2026.

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