China has congratulated Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, in Tokyo for a meeting with key allies, on his recent election

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China has congratulated Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, in Tokyo for a meeting with key allies, on his recent election – Copyright AFP CHARLY TRIBALLEAU

Chinese premier Li Keqiang has sent a congratulatory note to newly elected Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese, Beijing’s state media reported, ending a year-long freeze in diplomatic contact between the two countries.

China cut off diplomatic and trade channels with Australia in a largely symbolic act of fury last May, following clashes over issues including human rights, espionage and the origins of Covid-19.

“The Chinese side is ready to work with the Australian side to review the past, look into the future… to promote the sound and steady growth of their comprehensive strategic partnership,” Li said, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency late Monday.

Tensions between the countries soared in the past two years after Canberra called for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and banned telecoms giant Huawei from building Australia’s 5G network.

China — Australia’s biggest trading partner — responded by imposing tariffs or disrupting more than a dozen key industries, including wine, barley and coal.

Li’s message came as Albanese was heading for his first foreign engagement in Tokyo, where he is meeting with the leaders of Japan, India and the United States — an informal grouping known as the Quad seen as an effort to counter China.

In his first foreign policy address Monday, Albanese said the relationship with Beijing would “remain a difficult one”, Australian media reported.

“It is China that has changed, not Australia, and Australia should always stand up for our values,” the 59-year-old centre-left Labor Party leader said.

Australia has expressed concerns about Beijing’s growing influence in the Pacific region including a recent security pact between China and the Solomon Islands.

A leaked draft of the agreement that has not been made public includes a section that would allow Chinese naval deployments to the Solomons — less than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) from Australia.

China bristled when Canberra last year joined a hotly contested programme to equip its navy with nuclear-powered submarines in a new defence alliance with Britain and the United States.

The alliance, AUKUS, is aimed at confronting strategic tensions in the Pacific where the China-US rivalry is growing.

A series of other issues, including Canberra’s decision last year to scrap a major infrastructure project in the state of Victoria — under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative — has soured relations.

The two sides are also locked in an ongoing row over spying, with Beijing accusing Australia of raiding the homes of Chinese journalists.

Meanwhile, China has charged Chinese-born Australian writer Yang Hengjun with espionage, and arrested Cheng Lei, an Australian TV presenter working for state broadcaster CGTN, for “supplying state secrets overseas”.

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