Turnbull tackles touchy subjects with China president

From sport and tourism to hot-button issues like the South China Sea, Malcolm Turnbull managed to cover quite a bit of ground during his first visit as prime minister to Australia’s most important trading partner.

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There were plenty of smiles and handshakes and all the pomp and ceremony that’s to be expected from an official visit to China.

There was the familiar line about how strong Australia’s relationship with the rising super power is and how much deeper it can get and plenty of pats on the back over the China free-trade agreement.

In a first for an Australian prime minister, Mr Turnbull was hosted at banquets by both Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Chinese President Xi Jinping, signalling the importance of the relationship to China.

All up he spent four hours with both men, during a trip that lasted around 36 hours.

But looming in the background have been the touchy issues of China’s actions in the South China Sea and an oversupply of steel that’s hurting Australia’s own industry.

Mr Turnbull reiterated to China’s leaders that Australia wants the territorial dispute settled peacefully and in accordance with international law, having earlier this month labelled China’s actions in the South China Sea “counterproductive”.

He rejected local media reports that his stance could jeopardise Australia’s economic ties with China and used an important speech to almost 2000 business leaders in Shanghai to urge China to remain committed to working towards open markets and the rule of law.

He also questioned Premier Li about China’s steel oversupply, following South Australian steel maker Arrium being placed into voluntary administration.

The prime minister spent plenty of time talking about trade and innovation during his visit but he made it clear he didn’t shy away from talking about the difficult stuff either.