Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Beijing offers pandas to repair relationship with Australia


Li said that while Wang Wang and Fu Ni would return to their hometowns by the end of the year, he promised that “China will soon bring another pair of equally beautiful, lively, cute and younger pandas to Adelaide Park.” [Zoo].

A practice dating back to the Tang Dynasty, which ruled from 618 to 907 AD, panda diplomacy — or sending pandas as diplomatic gifts — has long been a tool of Chinese diplomatic efforts.

China seeks to increase its influence in the South Pacific, and expand security and economic relations with island countries historically allied with Australia.

This has been a point of tension between the two countries for years, but bilateral relations reached a low point when former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an international investigation in 2020 into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in China.

Beijing’s response has been to impose high tariffs, including on Australian wine.

Li’s Australian hosts also took him to a winery during his visit — a clear reminder that Beijing only recently raised tariffs on wine.

Upon his arrival in Adelaide on Saturday, Lee announced a thaw in the diplomatic dispute.

He said: “Mutual respect, the search for common ground while putting aside differences and mutually beneficial cooperation” is the key to the relationship.

But while relations between the two countries appear to be improving since Labor took power in Australia in 2022, differences remain.

These include removing remaining trade barriers and releasing jailed Australian democracy blogger Yang Hengjun, who was arrested at Guangzhou airport in 2019.

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Lee is scheduled to arrive in Canberra on Monday to meet with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Albanese is expected to raise the case of Yang, who was given a suspended death sentence on espionage charges last February.

While Li engages in trade and panda diplomacy in Australia, Yang’s supporters issued a statement on Sunday, saying the Beijing High Court reviewed and upheld the lower court’s ruling.

“Our most urgent concern is that Yang’s medical condition remains serious and has not been treated […] “We urge Prime Minister Albanese to use his meeting with Premier Li Qiang to directly demand that Yang be released on medical parole.”