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China, Trade and Security to Dominate Australia-New Zealand Talks

SYDNEY — Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is making his first official visit to New Zealand on Wednesday. Trade and security, as well as China’s ambitions in the Pacific, are expected to be on the agenda.

This year the two countries are celebrating 80 years of diplomatic relations. Although separated by the Tasman Sea, Australia and New Zealand have close bonds. Cultural, social and economic ties run deep.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says he wants to “strengthen the special relationship.” His counterpart, Chris Hipkins, believes that bilateral ties are the strongest they’ve “been in decades.”

There has, though, been friction over Canberra’s deportation of New Zealanders convicted of serious crimes. The government in Wellington complained that deportees often had tenuous ties to New Zealand. That policy is, however, being softened.

Since the start of July, it’s also been easier for New Zealanders living in Australia to gain citizenship.

Trade will be on the agenda as the two countries celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Closer Economic Relations Free Trade Agreement.

In 2009, New Zealand and Australia also signed a Free Trade Agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — or ASEAN — regional grouping of 10 countries.

Analysts say that China’s diplomatic, trade and military ambitions in the Pacific region will also be discussed by the two leaders during Albanese’s two-day visit.

Last year, Beijing struck a policing agreement with Solomon Islands, a mostly Melanesian archipelago north-east of Australia.

China failed, however, to persuade other island nations to join a broad regional accord.

But Professor John Blaxland from the Australian National University told VOA that China will continue to pursue its ambitions.

“We are facing what I would describe as unrestricted competition. China has not given up. China is playing the long game,” said Blaxland. “China has considerable interests — economic and other interests, strategic interests — in the Pacific that go beyond the Solomon Islands, and they are enduring. And they happen to rub up against the interests of Australia and New Zealand and other partners like the United States.”

Australia’s left-leaning government was elected in May 2022, and has made concerted efforts to diffuse tensions with China. They have been enflamed in recent years over various political disputes, including democracy in Hong Kong, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and threats to Taiwan.

Trade sanctions imposed by China on a range of Australian commodities have also damaged the relationship, but analysts say that high-profile ministerial meetings have seen tensions ease.

China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, but Canberra’s long-standing military alliance with the United States has been a source of antagonism with Beijing.

Source : VOA