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China Premier Li starts Australia trip with Adelaide panda announcement

17 June 2024 [09:00] - TODAY.AZ

China Premier Li Qiang kicked off his four-day visit to Australia on Sunday by announcing Beijing would provide a new pair of pandas to Australia's Adelaide Zoo after the current pair returns to China later this year, Azernews reports.

Li, China's second-highest ranked official, arrived in the South Australian state capital late on Saturday, saying bilateral relations were "back on track" as he started the first trip by a Chinese premier to Australia in seven years.

China, Australia's largest trade partner, imposed restrictions on a raft of Australian agricultural and mineral exports in 2020 during a diplomatic dispute that has now largely eased.

On Sunday, Li's first official stop was to visit a pair of pandas on loan from China to Adelaide's zoo, where Australian Broadcasting Corp television showed crowds gathered, some waving Chinese flags, while others held signs that read "No more panda propaganda".

At the zoo, Li announced the pandas would return to China in November and the zoo would get to select two new giant pandas, China's officialXinhuanews agency reported.

The pandas, Fu Ni and Wang Wang, have been at the zoo since 2009 but have not successfully bred, according to the ABC.

Li is next due to lunch with South Australia wine exporters, until recently shut out of the Chinese market in a dispute that suspended A$20 billion ($13 billion) in Australian agriculture and mineral exports last year.

Earlier on Sunday, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Li's visit was "really important" in showing stabilised ties between the two major trading partners.

"It comes after two years of very deliberate, very patient work by this government to bring about a stabilisation of the relationship," Wong told the ABC.

On the the pandas, Wong said the animals "have been a great part of the lives of many Adelaide families".

On Monday, Li will visit the capital Canberra for a meeting with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese then make a stop in iron-ore rich mining state Western Australia.

Australia is the biggest supplier of iron ore to China, which has been an investor in Australian mining projects, though some recent Chinese investment in critical minerals has been blocked by Australia on national interest grounds.

Li arrived from New Zealand, where he highlighted Chinese demand for the country's agricultural products.

Canberra and Wellington are seeking to balance trade with regional security concerns over China's ambitions in the Pacific Islands and on issues including human rights the contested South China Sea.


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