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China Premier to visit Australia today for the first time in seven years

Officials, diplomats and police in Canberra are furiously preparing for Chinese Premier Li Qiang, who will fly into Australia later today at a crucial time for Beijing and for the Australian government.

China wants to strengthen economic ties between the two nations, while the federal government is hoping Beijing will soon remove the last few remaining trade sanctions it has placed on Australian goods.

With China’s domestic economy facing challenges, maintaining the trade bans could jeopardise Beijing’s aspirations to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade pact, making a resolution with Australia even more pressing.

One potential game changer is expected to be announced: a 15-day visa-free entry for all Australian citizens to China.

Li Qiang stands in a suit between a man in a blue suit and a woman in an animal-fur coat

Li Qiang (centre) is welcomed to New Zealand earlier this week by New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon (left) and New Zealand Governor General Dame Cyndi Kiro.(AP: Mark Mitchell/NZ Herald)

Australia’s potential inclusion in China’s visa-free program marks a significant gesture, following similar arrangements offered to 12 other countries including France, Germany, and New Zealand.

The policy is aimed at boosting China’s tourism sector, which has recorded a significantly low number of foreign visitors this year.

The number of visitors reached just 30 per cent of 2019 figures.

By making it easier for Australians, especially those with Chinese heritage, to travel to China, Beijing hopes to inject much-needed revenue into its economy — aligning with China’s broader strategy to recover from its economic downturn since the pandemic.

Panda diplomacy

Another highly anticipated highlight of Mr Li’s visit is a possible announcement regarding the pandas at Adelaide Zoo.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s declaration of being “pro-panda” during his visit to China last November has set the stage for this.

The current panda couple, Wang Wang and Fu Ni, who are on loan from China, have not successfully bred, and may now be replaced with a more fertile pair — a symbol of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s willingness to maintain his political engagement with Mr Albanese.

two pandas on rocks with follage

Wang Wang and Funi have been at the Adelaide Zoo, on loan from China, since 2009.(Courtesy of Adelaide Zoo)

China has pursued what is known as panda diplomacy since the 1970s.

Known as symbols of diplomatic goodwill, the animals have been used by Beijing to foster friendly ties with other countries.

They are a symbol of the delicate and strategic dance between nations.

Serving as a soft-power tool, China’s pandas provide balance to Beijing’s often aggressive foreign policy.

Energy necessities

Mr Li’s visit also underscores China’s strategic interest in new energy partnerships, particularly in the lithium sector.

During his visit to a lithium mine in Perth, Mr Li is expected to emphasise the need for a consistent supply of natural resources, including iron ore, from Australia.

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