Australian, Chinese defence ministers meet for first time in 3 years

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SINGAPORE – Australia and China’s defense ministers met for the first time in three years on Sunday (Jun 12), with the talks touted as a “important first step” after a period of difficult relations.

On the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue security meeting in Singapore, Richard Marles, whose centre-left government took power in May, spoke for over an hour with China’s Wei Fenghe.

The meeting, according to Marles, was “an important first step” and “extremely crucial.”

“It was an opportunity to have a really candid and thorough dialogue in which I expressed a number of topics of concern to Australia,” Marles, Australia’s deputy prime minister, said.

Following the meeting, the Chinese government made no immediate reaction.

Relations between Beijing and Canberra have deteriorated in recent years, as the latter demanded an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak and barred Huawei from building Australia’s 5G network.

China, Australia’s most important trading partner, retaliated by slapping duties and damaging more than a dozen crucial industries, including wine, barley, and coal.

According to Marles, among the subjects discussed were the recent intercept of an Australian patrol plane in international airspace by a Chinese warplane, as well as Australia’s “abiding interest in the Pacific.”

This included Australia’s emphasis on ensuring “that the Pacific countries are not placed in a position of greater militarization,” he said.

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