China announced on Friday that Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit Australia next week, raising the prospect of stronger bilateral ties as US President Donald Trump unsettles the global diplomatic landscape.
Wang will travel to Australia and New Zealand from Tuesday to next Friday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said during a press briefing.
It will be Wang’s first foreign visit following Chinese New Year, and Lu called the trip “a full demonstration of the importance China attaches” to relations with Australia.
Though such visits are often planned well in advance, the announcement coincided with the fallout from a phone call between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Australia has long been a close Washington ally and has supported the United States in most conflicts since World War II. But Sunday’s call, in which Trump reportedly lambasted Turnbull over a refugee agreement before abruptly ending the conversation, suggested a rocky start to the relationship under the new American leader.
The clash could provide an opening for China as it eyes ways to take advantage of shifting foreign relations under Trump.
With the US withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Australia is among the countries that have expressed interest in an alternative, Beijing-backed trade deal.
While China is Australia’s largest trade partner, relations between the two countries have been complicated by Australia’s alliance with the US.
In July, a joint statement from the US, Japan and Australia urged China not to construct military outposts and reclaim land in the disputed South China Sea.
At the time, Wang condemned the statement and accused the three countries of “fanning the flames”.
China and Australia signed a free trade agreement in 2015, after years of difficult negotiations.