Foreign Minister Penny Wong has again urged Beijing to remove punitive trade measures against Australia during a meeting with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in New York.
- Penny Wong says she focused on pressing China to unwind trade sanctions and described talks as "constructive"
- She also addressed Australians arbitrarily detained in China, and Beijing's Taiwan threats
- The meeting is another sign China is willing to keep communication open with the Albanese government
Senator Wong used her remarks at the outset of the discussion to talk up the prospects of clean energy cooperation between the two countries, while warning against "blockages" imposed by China.
"Trade has been the platform from which the People's Republic of China has made historic achievements in poverty alleviation," she said to Mr Wang.
"Indeed, open, rules-based trade within the international system has underpinned economic development for both our countries.
"We both have much to lose by the disintegration of that system. And we both have much to gain from direct and productive engagement."
Although short, Senator Wong characterised the meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) as "constructive".
It's the second time the two ministers have met face-to-face within 12 weeks, following a freeze on high-level contact between Australia and China for more than two years.
"I think it is a long road in which many steps will have to be taken by both parties to a more stable relationship," Senator Wong told journalists afterwards.
While Australia and China still have many deeply entrenched disputes across a range of areas, officials in Canberra hope they might be able to begin stabilising the relationship by convincing China to unwind some of the trade punishments imposed in 2020, when the bilateral relationship was at its nadir.
Trade Minister Don Farrell has previously flagged Australia was willing to find a "compromise" or "alternate way" to settle disputes over a range of sanctions placed on Australian goods including wine, timber and barley.
After the meeting Senator Wong said Australia would not abandon its core national interests or principles when dealing with China.
"In terms of issues of difference obviously the first among them is the issue of trade blockages," she said.
"And that's the issue I focused on at the outset [of the meeting]."
Maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait and the treatment of Australians jailed in China were also on the agenda, along with the war in Ukraine, which Beijing has yet to explicitly condemn despite signalling reservations.
Senator Wong said she again raised concerns over the ongoing detention of Australian journalist Cheng Lei and writer Yang Hengjun, who are both accused of spying.
"Australia's national interests remain constant and our government will always speak when we believe it's necessary on issues that matter to our people," Senator Wong said.
Australia remains clear on Taiwan amid US ambiguity
While recent off-the-cuff comments by US President Joe Biden have again raised the spectre of conflict with China over Taiwan, Senator Wong was quick to lower the temperature.
"We urge restraint, we urge de-escalation and we reiterate the bipartisan position Australia has taken since 1972 and our One China policy which includes … economic and people-to-people engagement with Taiwan," she said.
Earlier in the week, Mr Biden told CBS's 60 Minutes the United States would defend Taiwan if China launched an "unprecedented attack" on the self-ruled democracy.
"Yes, if in fact, there was an unprecedented attack," Mr Biden said when asked if US forces would be deployed.
The White House has since said the remarks do not represent a formal change in policy.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Senator Wong said Australia did not want to see "any unilateral change to the status quo".
"Australia's position on Taiwan has not changed," she said.
UN Security Council meeting
The war in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin's escalating rhetoric again loomed over official and unofficial conversations on day three of the general assembly.
In a meeting of the UN Security Council, insults and accusations of war crimes dominated debate, which Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived 90 minutes late to before later storming out.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced Mr Putin's nuclear threats and decision to conscript hundreds of thousands of citizens to bolster his flailing war.
"Every council member should send a clear message that these reckless nuclear threats must stop immediately," Mr Blinken said.
"Tell President Putin to stop the horror he started."
Mr Wang was less direct, asking for investigations not to be "politicised" and be "based on fair facts, rather than an assumption of guilt."
Australia is among several countries that have encouraged China to take a more hardline position and use its influence on Russia to help end the war.
"This is a difficult time, it's a time of great change," Senator Wong said after her meeting with the Chinese foreign minister.
"And it's a time where we need to be behave in a way that is responsible, calm and considered."