SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia and China said they will work together to repair their bilateral relationship, tarnished by allegations that Beijing has committed cyber-attacks and has attempted to interfere in Canberra’s domestic affairs.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met on Sunday in Thailand ahead of the East Asia Summit, where both promised to try and improve the relationship worth more than A$180 billion ($124 billion) in two way trade last year.
“I feel very strongly and committed to improving that relationship and ensuring we realise its full potential,” Morrison told Li ahead of the meeting, according to a transcript seen by Reuters.
The meeting comes just days after China lodged a formal compliant after Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Canberra would hold Beijing to account on its human rights record.
China has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in remote Xinjiang it describes as “vocational training centres” intended to stamp out extremism and teach new skills.
The United Nations says at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained.
Payne’s comments were the latest in a series of Australian rebukes of China in recent months.
Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton last month said China was targeting political parties and universities in Australia, drawing a strong reaction from Beijing.
In September, Reuters reported Australian intelligence had found China was responsible for a cyber-attack on the national parliament and three largest political parties earlier this year.
China’s foreign ministry denied involvement in any hacking attacks and said the internet was full of theories that were hard to trace.
While Chinese tensions loom over Australia’s economy, Morrison is scheduled to try and secure an agreement on what could become the world’s largest trade bloc.
Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders are trying to reach a deal with Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea and India on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) — which could become the largest global trade pact in history.
Morrison will meet on Monday with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is under pressure domestically to reject the deal.