Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is downplaying talk of any invitation to visit China, as he wraps up his summit tour of three South-East Asian countries.
Mr Albanese held a formal meeting with the Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali on Tuesday night – the first meeting between an Australian leader and Mr Xi in six years.
His trans-Tasman counterpart, Jacinda Ardern sat down with Mr Xi at the APEC Summit in Thailand. New Zealand media is reporting Ms Ardern offered to bring a trade delegation to China, and Mr Xi asked her to consider dates.
When asked whether an invitation would be extended in his direction any time soon, Mr Albanese was careful in his wording.
“What we’ve had this week is first steps, and I’m not getting ahead of myself,” he told reporters in Bangkok.
“I think that engagement with China, like engagement with other nations, is constructive — it has been this week.
“We’ll continue to, arising out of this week’s progress, take steps forward together.”
The prime minister’s attendance at the ASEAN and East Asia Summits in Cambodia, G20 in Bali and APEC in Thailand have been dominated by discussion of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, and China’s strategic ambition in the Asia Pacific.
North Korea’s launch of a long-range missile overshadowed part of the APEC summit, when US Vice-President Kamala Harris convened a meeting with Japan, South Korea, Canada, New Zealand and Australia on the sidelines to condemn the launch.
“You can’t have one nation solutions to issues which are global,” Mr Albanese said.
“They require international cooperation, they require goodwill, and they require countries to work together for our common interest.
“And that is what I have sought to do over the past eight days, is to send a message that Australia wants to engage constructively, to work with our partners in the region, and indeed, throughout the world.”
Trade issues with Taiwan
On Friday Mr Albanese suggested Taiwan was not eligible to join the mammoth global trade agreement, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), because it was not recognised as an nation state.
That prompted concern from Taipei’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), which insisted the CPTPP was open to economies, regardless of their diplomatic standing.
Overnight, MOFA said the Australian Government had been in contact.
“The government of Australia has since clarified with Taiwan that its stance on Taiwan’s accession to the CPTPP has not changed and that it continues to welcome the entry of all economies that meet the high standards of the CPTPP, including Taiwan,” spokesperson Joanne Ou said.
Mr Albanese avoided directly answering whether he had misspoken, when questioned on Saturday.
“Our position has not changed,” he said.
“We will deal with applications as they are dealt with by consensus for economies applying to join the CPTPP.
“The issue that is being dealt with at the moment that was agreed to be dealt with by all the countries by consensus is the UK — those negotiations have been going on for a year and they’re continuing to go on, and we will deal with the applications on their merits.”
Leaders issue joint declaration
As the two-day APEC summit wrapped up in Bangkok the leaders issued a joint declaration, but consensus was not reached on all matters.
The statement committed the leaders to promoting “strong, balanced, secure, sustainable and inclusive growth” in the region, and to upholding and strengthening a rules-based multilateral trade system.
It also recognised that “more intensive efforts are needed to address today’s challenges, including climate change, extreme weather and natural disasters, food security, and sustainable energy transitions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.
However, the 21 Asia Pacific member nations could not agree on a common position on Russia’s war on Ukraine and the global economic impacts that have flowed on from it.
The joint declaration stated that “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy”.
But it added there were “other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions”.
Russia is an APEC member, as is China, which has generally refrained from criticising Moscow.
World leaders are now heading back to their home countries.
The next APEC summit will be held in the United States in 2023.
APEC members account for nearly four of every 10 people, and almost half of world trade.