Australia is seeking to repair its relationship with its largest trading partner, China, following a deterioration in ties after it banned Huawei Technologies Co. from bidding for 5G contracts and the introduction of anti-foreign interference laws aimed at Beijing.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government on Friday announced the formation of the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations, which will use the private sector, industry lobby groups, and non-government and cultural organizations to “turbo-charge our national effort in engaging China.”
Australia has been increasingly concerned the conflict with China is impacting trade. Coal imports into the nation are taking longer than normal, with Glencore Plc last month blaming tensions between the nations. Australian beef and wine exporters last year said political friction had caused their products to be held up at Chinese ports, after then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull implicitly criticized Chinese meddling in Australian politics and universities.
“We have different perspectives on some important issues and the new foundation will encourage and enable considerable constructive discourse and engagement between our two countries,” Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said in the statement.
The announcement came on the same day the nation welcomed a new ambassador to China who may also help Morrison reset relations. Graham Fletcher, whom the Australian newspaper describes as a fluent Mandarin speaker with three previous postings to Beijing, will take the prized post.
Australia isn’t alone in pondering how to respond to a trade-driven backlash by China. Beijing is choking off canola sales from Canada after Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested there in response to a U.S. extradition request.