Australia’s new Trade Minister, Dan Tehan, has admitted that his Chinese counterpart has not responded to his efforts to reach out.
Last month, Beijing replaced its Commerce Minister, Zhong Shan – who had reached retirement age at 65 – with Wang Wentao, who has a background in the defence sector.
Tehan, who himself was made Trade Minister during Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s cabinet reshuffle on 18 December, said he had written to the newly appointed minister, but was yet to hear back.
“I haven’t had a reply, but it only went a week or so ago and was a very detailed letter,” he said in an interview with Sky News earlier this week.
But he said there were “many ways” for Australia to “constructively engage with China” in regards to its commercial relationship.
“It’s built on extraordinary two-way trade. Our trading relationship is very complementary. What we send to China, they need; what they send to us, we need. And our economies work very well like that,” he said.
Political and trade relations between Australia and China have been getting steadily frostier ever since Australia led the push for an independent global inquiry into the origins of COVID-19, which was first discovered in Wuhan, China.
China has also slapped several tariffs and trade restrictions on Australian exports, such as barley, wheat, wine, lobster, coal, copper, and more.
Chinese state-owned publications, such as The Global Times and China Daily, have also published several pieces in recent months taking aim at Canberra and accusing the Morrison Government for failing to repair “sour relations”.
But Tehan is optimistic about the relationship, noting that Zhong was installed just a day or two after his own appointment to Trade Minister.
“My hope is that we can have a constructive dialogue,” he said. “So I see an opportunity there. But I’ll wait patiently for a response.”
In the meantime, Tehan said he will focuson the UK and EU free trade agreements, as well as trading relationships with India, Japan, Vietnam, and working more closely with the Biden administration.