Chinese premier focuses on clean energy on Australian visit - GulfToday

Chinese premier focuses on clean energy on Australian visit

Li Qiang

Li Qiang

Chinese Premier Li Qiang has ended his Australian tour on Tuesday in the west coast city of Perth where he has focused on China’s investment in critical minerals, clean energy and business links. Perth is the capital of Western Australia state, which provided 39% of the world’s iron ore last year. Iron ore is one of Australia’s most lucrative exports. Analysts say the commodity was spared the type of trade bans Beijing imposed on other Australian exports as bilateral relations soured three years ago because the steel-making ingredient was crucial to Chinese industrial growth. Li last week became the first Chinese premier to visit New Zealand then Australia in seven years. He left Perth late Tuesday for Malaysia, where he’ll be China’s first premier to visit since 2015.

While in Perth, China’s second-most powerful leader after President Xi Jinping inspected iron ore miner Fortescue’s clean energy research facility. Fortescue’s chairman Andrew Forrest said Li was interested in the company’s plans to produce iron ore without carbon emissions and potentially “green iron.”

“I think China chose us because it’s not just the best technology to go green in Australia, it’s the best technology to go green in the world and we’ve got real examples of it in trains, ship engines, trucks,” Forrest told The Associated Press before the visit. The Perth facility is testing technology on hydrogen, ammonia and batter power for trains, ships, trucks and heavy mining equipment. Li also visited Chinese-controlled Tianqi Lithium Energy Australia’s processing plant south of Perth to underscore China’s interest in investing in critical minerals. The plant produces battery-grade lithium hydroxide for electric vehicles. Australia shares US concerns over China’s global dominance in critical minerals and control over supply chains in the renewable energy sector.

Citing Australia’s national interests, Treasurer Jim Chalmers recently ordered five Chinese-linked companies to divest their shares in the rare earth mining company Northern Minerals. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wrote in an opinion piece published in Perth’s main newspaper, The West Australian, on Tuesday that his government was acting to ensure foreign investment “continues to serve our national interests.”

“This includes reforming the foreign investment framework so that it’s more efficient, more transparent and more effective at managing risk,” Albanese wrote. Forrest said the national risk from Chinese investment in the critical minerals sector was overstated. “Australia should be producing all the critical minerals in the world because we’re a great mining country, so by all means let’s go in harder after critical minerals, but let’s not do it with panic because there is no reason for panic,” Forrest said.

Qiang and Albanese flew to Perth in separate planes late Monday from the national capital Canberra where the two leaders held an official annual meeting with senior ministers in Parliament House. Both leaders attended a round table of business leaders in Perth representing resource companies including mining giants BHP and Rio Tinto. Business Council of Australia chief executive Bran Black said business dialogue was essential to the bilateral relations between the two free trading partners. “While there have been challenging times in the bilateral relationship between the two nations, I think it’s fair to say this is another positive point of progress,” Black told the meeting.

“It shows that whilst the parameters of a bilateral relationship are set by governments, they will always be sustained by the quality of the personal relationships and especially those personal relationships that subsist on a business-to-business level,” Black added. Chinese premiers and Australian prime ministers met annually from 2013 until 2019, after which Beijing banned minister-to-minister contacts over the previous conservative government’s call for an independent investigation into the causes of and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Relations had already been strained by Australian legislation that banned covert foreign interference in Australian politics and the exclusion of Chinese-owned telecommunications giant Huawei from rolling out the national 5G network due to security concerns.

Beijing initiated a reset in relations after Albanese’s center-left Labor Party was elected in 2022. The annual meetings resumed when Albanese visited Beijing in November last year. Albanese revealed that his office had complained to the Chinese Embassy about the behavior of two officials during a media event with the two leaders after Monday’s meeting. Australia had “concerns” about two Chinese officials who stood in the way of cameras taking images of well-known Australian journalist Cheng Lei sitting with other reporters as the leaders spoke, Albanese said.

Cheng spent more than three years in detention in China for breaking an embargo with a broadcast on a state-run TV network while she was based in Beijing. She was released last year after interventions by the Australian government and now works for Sky News Australia. “When you look at the footage, it was a pretty clumsy attempt, frankly, by a couple of people to stand in between where the cameras were and where Cheng Lei was sitting,” Albanese said. “There should be no impediments to Australian journalists going about their job and we’ve made that clear to the Chinese Embassy,” Albanese added. Chinese-born Cheng told Sky News on Monday the officials “went to great lengths to block me from the cameras and to flank me.”

“I’m only guessing that it’s to prevent me from saying something or doing something that they think would be a bad look. But that in itself was a bad look,” Cheng said.

The embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Li and Albanese made statements during the press event but neither took questions from the assembled journalists.

Associated Press

Related articles