Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has sent a blunt message to Australia about his country’s foreign policy decisions at the start of a five-day visit down under.
Premier Li Keqiang says China will continue to go down the path that suits its traditions when it comes to foreign policy, despite wanting to further diplomatic ties with Australia.
With a Trump Presidency in the United States the relationship between Australia and China is now more important than ever particularly to maintain stability in the Asia Pacific region.
China’s military build-up in the disputed South China Sea is a prickly issue the two nations continue to navigate.
While Premier Li maintains China wants to see peace in the Asia Pacific, he says it must be on its own terms.
“China pursues an independent foreign policy of peace and we pursue a national development path suited to our traditions. Likewise, we respect your choice in your foreign policy,” he told guests in Mandarin at a lunch inside federal parliament in Canberra.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also spoke during the lunch and urged China to play a critical role in the region.
“We believe China has much to contribute to global peace and prosperity in this time of rapid change,” Mr Turnbull said.
“Australia and China share a region. We share a market place, we share a home and we share a responsibility to strive for peace and progress,” Mr Shorten said.
The start of Premier Li’s five-day visit to Australia was marked with a full ceremonial welcome including an inspection of the guard in front of Parliament House.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is welcomed to Parliament House in Canberra
Mr Li is the first Chinese Premier to visit Australia in eight years.
Despite that, the bond between Australia and its largest trading partner has never been closer.
The next step is to expand the free trade agreement the two nations signed in 2014.
The aim is to further reduce trade barriers and give Australian chilled beef exports better access to the Chinese market.
“We will continue to lower the tariffs and will continue to import more Australian products,’ Premier Li said.
“I come here for free trade. In the world protectionism is rising and there are more voices against economic globalisation.”
Outside federal parliament, Premier Li’s visit was welcomed by some of the thousands of Chinese students who are studying in Australia.
Zhixin Cheng, 26, told SBS News: “Australia is a very beautiful country but sometimes we miss home and miss China so this is the one opportunity to have a connection with my home country.”
Just metres away from the students were hundreds of Tibetan protestors who said they fear the communist Chinese government has a growing influence in Australia.
ACT Tibetan Community President and former political prisoner, Sonam Choedon, said people like her continue live in fear.
“They can't just rule the world, or try to rule the world and still torture and have all these repressive and oppressive situations,” she told SBS News.
Premier Li, a trained economist, has been criticised for having little power under Chinese President Xi Jinping who has taken direct oversight on China's economic policy.
Premier Li is travelling with his wife Madame Cheng Hong.
Their next stop is New Zealand.
“My wife and I, on our way to Australia, flew across the clouds. There was lightening but we kept flying and that is the same as China-Australia relations,” he said.