In this photo released by Malaysia's Department of Information, China's...

In this photo released by Malaysia's Department of Information, China's Premier Li Qiang arrives at Sepang International Airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Credit: AP

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — China's premier received a red-carpet welcome as he arrived Tuesday in Malaysia, the last leg of a regional tour, to celebrate a half-century of diplomatic ties between the two nations.

Li Qiang is the first Chinese premier to visit Malaysia since 2015. He flew in on an Air China jet from Australia and was received by Transport Minister Anthony Loke and other officials, the national Bernama news agency said. He then inspected a guard of honor before being taken to his hotel.

During his three-day visit, Li will hold talks with Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, meet Malaysia King Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, attend a groundbreaking ceremony for a China-backed rail link project and a dinner to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

Li, China's second-most powerful leader after President Xi Jinping, last week became the first Chinese premier to visit New Zealand and then Australia in seven years. He ended his Australian tour earlier Tuesday in the west coast city of Perth, where he has focused on China’s investment in critical minerals, clean energy and business links.

Perth is the capital of Western Australia state, which provided 39% of the world's iron ore last year. Iron ore is one of Australia's most lucrative exports. Analysts say the commodity was spared the type of trade bans Beijing imposed on other Australian exports as bilateral relations soured three years ago because the steel-making ingredient was crucial to Chinese industrial growth.

While in Perth, Li inspected iron ore miner Fortescue’s clean energy research facility. Fortescue’s chairman Andrew Forrest said that Li was interested in the company’s plans to produce iron ore without carbon emissions and potentially “green iron.”

“I think China chose us because it’s not just the best technology to go green in Australia, it’s the best technology to go green in the world, and we’ve got real examples of it in trains, ship engines, trucks,” Forrest told The Associated Press before the visit.

Chinese-born Australian journalist Cheng Lei, center, films a signing ceremony...

Chinese-born Australian journalist Cheng Lei, center, films a signing ceremony with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at Parliament House in Canberra, Monday, June 17, 2024. Li says he has agreed with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to properly manage their nations' differences as they emerge from a hostile era in which minister-to-minister contacts were banned and trade barriers cost Australian exporters up to $13 billion a year. Credit: AP/Lukas Coch

The Perth facility is testing technology on hydrogen, ammonia and battery power for trains, ships, trucks and heavy mining equipment.

Li also visited Chinese-controlled Tianqi Lithium Energy Australia’s processing plant south of Perth to underscore China’s interest in investing in critical minerals. The plant produces battery-grade lithium hydroxide for electric vehicles.

Australia shares U.S. concerns over China’s global dominance in critical minerals and control over supply chains in the renewable energy sector.

Citing Australia’s national interests, Treasurer Jim Chalmers recently ordered five China-linked companies to divest their shares in the rare earth mining company Northern Minerals.

Chinese-born Australian journalist Cheng Lei attends a signing ceremony with...

Chinese-born Australian journalist Cheng Lei attends a signing ceremony with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at Parliament House in Canberra, Monday, June 17, 2024. Credit: AP/Lukas Coch

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wrote in an opinion piece published in Perth’s main newspaper, The West Australian, on Tuesday that his government was acting to ensure foreign investment “continues to serve our national interests.”

“This includes reforming the foreign investment framework so that it’s more efficient, more transparent and more effective at managing risk,” Albanese wrote.

Forrest said that the national risk from Chinese investment in the critical minerals sector was overstated.

“Australia should be producing all the critical minerals in the world, because we’re a great mining country, so by all means let’s go in harder after critical minerals, but let’s not do it with panic because there is no reason for panic,” Forrest said.

Qiang and Albanese flew to Perth in separate planes late Monday after holding delegation meetings in the national capital, Canberra. Both leaders attended a roundtable of business leaders in Perth representing resource companies, including mining firms BHP and Rio Tinto.

Chinese premiers and Australian prime ministers met annually from 2013 until 2019, after which Beijing banned minister-to-minister contacts over the previous conservative government's call for an independent investigation into the causes of and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Relations had already been strained by Australian legislation that banned covert foreign interference in Australian politics and the exclusion of Chinese-owned telecommunications company Huawei from rolling out the national 5G network because of security concerns.

Beijing initiated a reset in relations after Albanese's center-left Labor Party was elected in 2022.

The annual meetings resumed when Albanese visited Beijing in November.

Albanese revealed that his office had complained to the Chinese Embassy about the behavior of two officials during a media event with the two leaders after Monday's meeting.

Australia had “concerns” about two Chinese officials who stood in the way of cameras taking images of well-known Australian journalist Cheng Lei sitting with other reporters as the leaders spoke, Albanese said.

Cheng spent more than three years in detention in China for breaking an embargo with a broadcast on a state-run television network while she was based in Beijing. She was released last year after interventions by the Australian government and now works for Sky News Australia.

“There should be no impediments to Australian journalists going about their job, and we’ve made that clear to the Chinese Embassy,” Albanese said.

China-born Cheng told Sky News on Monday that the officials “went to great lengths to block me from the cameras and to flank me.”

“I’m only guessing that it’s to prevent me from saying something or doing something that they think would be a bad look. But that in itself was a bad look,” Cheng said. The embassy didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

___

Rod McGuirk reported from Melbourne, Australia.

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