Richard Marles hopeful diaglogue with Beijing is possible as he meets with Chinese counterpart

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles confirmed he has been introduced to his Chinese counterpart at the Shangri-La Dialogue meeting on Saturday. 

Defence Minister Richard Marles says an opportunity to have proper dialogue with Beijing is “possible” after he met his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe at security talks in Singapore.

It is the highest level in-person contact between the two nations in more than two years after Beijing barred phone calls and meetings with Australian ministers and their counterparts in early 2020.

Speaking with Sky News Australia’s Kieran Gilbert on Sunday, Mr Marles confirmed he was introduced to China’s defence Minister at the Shangri-La Dialogue on Saturday.

“I don’t want to overstate what’s occurred. It was literally nothing more than a handshake,” he said.

“There’s been no opportunity to have a proper conversation.”

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But Mr Marles, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, said he was hopeful “an interaction may occur” on the final day of the international gathering.

“This is a place where dialogue can occur, which is, which is very important. I mean, we’ve been very clear that we want to go about our international relations,” Mr Marles said.

Mr Marles said it was important to engage in conversation which is “sober, professional and based on respect” amid heightened tensions between the two regions.

“That’s really important during complex times, the more complex the times, the more important that there is dialogue and proper diplomacy,” he said.

However, the defence minister reassured Australia would not falter from articulating issues that are in its national interests and reaffirmed the nation’s commitment to a rules based order.

“We need to be seeing countries relate to each other on the basis of those rules and not on the basis of power and might, and that as we are witnessing a very significant military buildup in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

“It’s very important that that happens in a way which is transparent.”

The meeting signals an easing of a two-year long diplomatic freeze between Canberra and Beijing after trade relations soured over the emergence of COVID-19.

China slapped sanctions on barley, beef, wine and other goods back in 2020 after then-prime minister Scott Morrison called for an inquiry into the origins of coronavirus.

Beijing also issued a list of 14 grievances it had with Australia.

It comes after Trade Minister Don Farrell told The Weekend Australian he would invite China’s Commerce Minister Wang Wentao to a meeting while he was in Geneva for World Trade Association meetings.

If Senator Farrell locks in the gathering with his counterpart, it will mark the first senior-level meeting between Australian and Chinese officials since the diplomatic freeze.

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