Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met privately with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at a gala dinner for world leaders.
This is an important development as work continues behind the scenes to secure a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The dinner was hosted by King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia and Prime Minister Hun Sen, inviting leaders who attended the East Asia and ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh.
Albanese and the Prime Minister sat near the head table and had a short conversation.
It was the first time he met Premier Li, and the two talked about the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Albanese sat next to Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the gala and also met with US President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Trust, communication and collaboration were at the heart of Albanese’s approach to meeting with fellow world leaders.
He promised to uphold the ideals of peace and freedom, which he said would be achieved by building trust between nations.
But China’s sanctions against Australia and the strengthening of its security muscle in the region are key issues the prime minister is trying to address.
Xi, who has not held formal meetings with Australian leaders since Malcolm Turnbull in 2016, has confirmed that he will meet with Biden in Bali.
Whether he and Albanese will do so is an open question.
“Dialogue is a good thing. From dialogue comes understanding, and in today’s world we need to increase it, not decrease it,” Albanese said.
“We know there is strategic competition in the region, and that is the context of the meetings taking place between the United States and China.”
This is due to Australia’s strengthening of free trade agreements with ASEAN and New Zealand.
The pact upgrade will allow Australian businesses to expand their engagement with Southeast Asia while facilitating greater cooperation on climate change and renewable energy.
“Strengthening trade agreements with ASEAN and New Zealand means better outcomes for Australian businesses and Australian families,” Albanese said.
“Today we open an ambitious new chapter of growing economic relations between ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand, in line with my government’s commitment to deepen our engagement in Southeast Asia.”
Albanese said he was waiting for a final decision on a meeting with Xi and looked forward to a constructive dialogue.
“I think there’s certainly a lot of goodwill from Australia here,” he said.
“There is no reason to think that China has no good intentions either.”
On Sunday, the prime minister will deliver two speeches at the summit before visiting an exhibition in Phnom Penh with other world leaders.
“This is an opportunity to build relationships in our region early in the new administration’s term,” he said.
“I am very pleased that the dialogue has been very constructive and very positive.”
It will be the Prime Minister’s final day in Phnom Penh before traveling to Bali for the G20 summit.