Malcolm Turnbull won’t say whether hot-button issues such as Australia’s concern about cheap steel imports and tensions over regional maritime borders will be raised during his first trip to China as prime minister.
Mr Turnbull will join about 1000 business leaders, three federal ministers and two state premiers on the two-day visit, which includes talks and banquets with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
Asked if the discussions would include China’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea or the issue of steel imports, Mr Turnbull repeatedly told reporters in Perth on Wednesday the talks would cover “a range of issues”.
“The Chinese leaders … know that I have very clear and consistent views on all of these issues and that we say the same thing privately as we do publicly,” he said.
The visit comes amid a slowing of the Chinese economy, which is crucial for Australian jobs and growth.
Business chiefs will be seeking to build on the China-Australia free trade agreement which came into effect in December, cutting tariffs across many economic sectors.
The Chinese economy is changing from one based on growth in exports to a greater consumer focus.
Australia is seeking to open more doors to trade in food and agriculture, financial services, aged care, education and urban services.
As Chinese visitors to Australia top the one million mark, the prime minister will launch a new Tourism Australia promotion in Shanghai.
Mr Turnbull will also launch an innovation “landing pad” for start-ups.
Over two days he is expected to have about four hours of talks with the two Chinese leaders.
Mr Turnbull is expected to underline Australia’s position that China’s actions in the South China Sea are raising anxieties and tensions among its neighbours.
Australia believes disputes of the ownership of the various reefs should be settled by international law and the economic growth of the region depends on peace and stability.
Fifteen Australian chief executives will sit down with their Chinese counterparts for a business roundtable, which will report to the prime minister.
Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Tasmanian leader Will Hodgman will also be involved in trade and investment talks.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the prime minister needed to be resolute in Australia’s support for international forums to resolve maritime border disputes.
“I also hope he speaks up for the Australian steel industry,” he told reporters in Canberra.