Australia seeks stable ties with 'great power' China, minister says

FILE PHOTO: Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong speaks during a news conference on the sidelines the sidelines of the 77th United Nations General Assembly in New York
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SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia is aiming for a stable relationship with China despite differences, especially on trade, Australia's foreign minister said, as she called on Beijing to use its influence as a great power to help end the war in Ukraine.

Australia's ties with its largest trading partner are at a low after disputes over a number of issues, including the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, trade and Australian accusations of Chinese interference.

"I think it is a long road on which many steps will have to be taken by both parties to a more stable relationship," Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong told reporters after meeting her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on Thursday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

"In terms of issues of difference, obviously first amongst them is the issue of trade blockages, and that is the issue I focussed on at the outset," she said.

In the meeting, the Chinese minister emphasised the importance of stable bilateral ties, which he said ought to be more resilient and not be prone to "accidents" given 50 years of diplomatic relations, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry on Saturday.

China is willing to "properly resolve differences and promote the healthy and stable development of bilateral relations", Wang said.

Wong, who said the meeting was constructive, also urged China, as one of the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council (P5), to use its influence to help end the Ukraine crisis.

"China is a great power," she said. "We encourage China as a P5 member with a special responsibility to uphold the U.N. charter to use its influence to end the war."

She said Russia's invasion of Ukraine was illegal and President Vladimir Putin's threat to use nuclear weapons was "unthinkable and irresponsible".

Wong said she raised with Wang the issue of Australian journalist Cheng Lei and blogger Yang Hengjun, who have been detained in China and face espionage charges.

Thursday's meeting, the second of the two diplomats in three months, comes as Australia's recently elected Labor government looks to rebuild ties after a sharp deterioration during the term of the previous conservative government.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said this week "there was a belligerence in the way in which the former government spoke", and his government was looking to change the tone.

(Reporting by Lewis Jackson and Renju Jose; Additional reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel and William Mallard)