Australia and China have discussed ways to handle future political issues in high level talks in Beijing led by former prime minister Howard.
Speaking at a meeting with China’s most senior diplomat, Politburo member Yang Jiechi, Mr Howard said delegations from both sides had discussed the state of Australia’s relationship with China during a high-level dialogue on Friday.
He said the two sides had accepted that there would be differences in the relationship in future but had “talked about how we might address those.”
Mr Howard said Australia’s strong economic relationship with China had helped the country get through the global financial crisis “relatively unscathed”.
He said there were 1.2 million people in Australia of Chinese origin out of a total population of 25 million.
He said the initial trade in minerals between Australia and China was now expanding into other areas including services, such as legal services and tourism and education.
“Chinese is the most important foreign language spoken in Australia,” he said.
“The people to people association is a very important part of the relationship.”
“But like all close relationships, you have to keep your friendship in good repair.”
“There are occasions where we will have differences – we have accepted that – and we have talked about how we might address those.”
Mr Howard’s comments come as the Morrison Government has been moving to improve ties with China which have been strained over the past two years following comments by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
Both sides have seized on the change of political leadership in Australia to get relations back on track with Foreign Minister Marise Payne visiting Beijing last month – the first visit to the Chinese capital by an Australian Foreign Minister since Julie Bishop’s visit in February 2016.
Mr Howard said there had been the odd “tussle” between the two sides during the talks.
The delegation included former Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott, ANZ executive Warwick Smith, the former chief of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Allan Fels and the director of the National Museum of Australia Matt Trinca.
Mr Howard recalled during the talks how he had met several former Chinese leaders during his visits to China including Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.