Chinese Premier Li toasts warming trade ties in Australia

June 17, 2024
Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong (Left) shakes hands with China's Premier Li Qiang at as South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas (centre) looks on at Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide, Australiaon June 16, 2024. — Reuters

SYDNEY: Chinese Premier Li Qiang mixed a dash of “panda diplomacy” with a visit to a historic vineyard on Sunday to celebrate a thaw in once-icy trade ties with Australia.


The highest ranking Chinese official to visit Australia in seven years, Li´s four-day trip offers the prospect of greater trade after Beijing lifted punitive measures against a string of major Australian exports.

China is by far Australia´s biggest trading partner, taking in nearly 30 percent of its exports last year including major commodities iron ore and coal.

Two-way trade reached Aus$327 billion ($216 billion) in 2023.

Setting the warmer tone, Li took a trip to Adelaide Zoo in bright sunshine and announced China would loan new “equally beautiful” giant pandas to replace popular pair Wang Wang and Fu Ni.

The longstanding Adelaide pandas, which have failed to produce offspring since their arrival in 2009, will return to China by the end of the year.

“I guess they must have missed their home a lot,” said Li, the second most powerful man in China after President Xi Jinping.

The premier said China made the panda offer to honour the wishes of Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, an Adelaide resident who has worked to stabilise the relationship with Beijing.

Li then joined Wong for a lunch at the 19th century Magill Estate vineyard, home of the original Penfolds winery and now part of the Australian global winemaker Treasury Wine Estates.