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Trade minister tries to smooth China ties

Wine bottlesAfter the Turnbull government languished for eight months in China’s sin bin, the first minister to visit the mainland was keen to go on a charm offensive.

Relations with China have soured in the past year and Beijing is especially cranky about Australia’s foreign interference laws.

No Australian minister had visited the Chinese mainland for eight months until Trade Minister Steve Ciobo broke the drought this week.

However, it’s understood his schedule does not include meetings with anyone senior from the Chinese government.

Ciobo’s trip is predominantly to attend a Port Adelaide-Gold Coast AFL clash in Shanghai as well as Asia’s largest food and beverage exhibition.

He delivered a speech at an Australia-China business awards ceremony overnight.

“For the partnership between Australia and China, if we find ourselves in choppy waters, we should bring our boats together and help each other to find a way to the other shore, avoiding the storm,” Ciobo said.

Ciobo said China wasn’t just an economic miracle. “China is today one of the true global giants,” he said.

He lavished praise on President Xi Jinping and China’s One-Belt One-Road international infrastructure building scheme.

The Turnbull government has not signed up to have infrastructure projects built under that scheme but instead is keen to secure opportunities under the scheme for Australian businesses in China or third countries.

“Australia and China share the common goal of improving infrastructure in the region and Australia welcomes the contribution (the scheme) can make to regional infrastructure,” Ciobo said.

Earlier this year, his colleague Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who is international development minister, raised concerns about China building “white elephants and roads to nowhere” in the South Pacific and tiny island countries being laden with huge Chinese debts.

Meanwhile, Ciobo’s office is helping an Australian wine importer navigate a bureaucracy bottleneck.

Treasury Wine has said it was facing delays getting some products through Chinese customs.

Julie Bishop is en route to Argentina this weekend to attend a G20 foreign ministers meeting and may have bilateral talks with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

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