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Australian Albanian, Chinese Li to talk trade, writer jailed

MICK TSIKAS/POOL VIA REUTERS / JUNE 17 Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang shakes hands with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the Australian Parliament House in Canberra, Australia.

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MICK TSIKAS/POOL VIA REUTERS / JUNE 17

Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang shakes hands with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the Australian Parliament House in Canberra, Australia.

REUTERS/PETER HOBSON / JUNE 17 Protesters and supporters gather as Chinese Premier Li Qiang arrives ahead of a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese outside the Australian Parliament Building in Canberra, Australia.

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REUTERS/PETER HOBSON / JUNE 17

Protesters and supporters gather as Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang arrives ahead of a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese outside the Australian Parliament Building in Canberra, Australia.

MICK TSIKAS/POOL VIA REUTERS / JUNE 17 Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang shakes hands with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the Australian Parliament House in Canberra, Australia.

REUTERS/PETER HOBSON / JUNE 17 Protesters and supporters gather as Chinese Premier Li Qiang arrives ahead of a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese outside the Australian Parliament Building in Canberra, Australia.

CANBERRA >> Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Chinese Premier Li Qiang will meet on Monday in the first visit to the country by a Chinese prime minister in seven years, with trade ties, regional security and a jailed Australian writer on the agenda.

The visit by Li, China’s highest-ranking official after President Xi Jinping, marks a stabilization in relations between the US security ally and the world’s second-largest economy, after a frosty period that saw Beijing block $20 billion in Australian exports and friction over defense battles .

Protesters and supporters gathered on the lawn outside Parliament House in Canberra on Monday morning, where there was a heavy police presence, as a ceremonial welcome was held for Li.

Starting with some panda and wine diplomacy on Sunday, Li is on a four-day visit that Australia’s foreign minister called “really important” and which the Chinese leader said showed bilateral ties were “back on track.”

Without China – which receives a third of Australia’s exports and supplies a quarter of Australia’s imports – Australians would pay 4.2% more for consumer goods, an Australian business group said on Monday.

Trade with China increased average household disposable income by A$2,600 ($1,700) last year, supporting 595,600 jobs or 4.2% of total employment, according to the research by Curtin University and the Australia China Business Council.

“Managing geopolitical risks and concerns around defense and security will remain central to discussions in the Indo-Pacific,” the report said. “Trade is not separate from these discussions.”

Australia is the largest supplier of iron ore to China and China has invested in Australian mining projects.

Li’s visit is likely to raise questions about whether Australia will continue to accept high levels of Chinese investment in its crucial minerals sector, as Western security allies push to reduce dependence on Beijing for the rare earth elements vital to electric vehicles. Australia last month blocked several Chinese investors from increasing their stakes in a rare earths mining company on grounds of national interest.

Albanese has said he will raise human rights issues in his talks with Li.

The conditional death sentence for Chinese-born Australian writer Yang Hengjun was upheld by a Beijing court ahead of Li’s visit, his supporters said on Sunday.

They urged Albanians to ask Li to allow Yang’s transfer to Australia on medical grounds, saying in a statement that it was “not possible to achieve a stable, respectful bilateral relationship with China while their officials threatening to execute an Australian political prisoner.”

Yang, a pro-democracy blogger and spy writer, worked in New York before being arrested at Guangzhou airport in 2019.

Australia described his sentence in February as “distressing”, casting a shadow over the recent rebuilding of bilateral ties.

($1 = 1.5119 Australian dollars)