Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye departs Australia with a cloud of the Indo-Pacific

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne has not had direct contact with her counterpart in Beijing for around 18 months. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne has not had direct contact with her counterpart in Beijing for around 18 months. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Cheng Jingye, the Chinese ambassador to Australia is about to depart after ending his tour of duty in Canberra.

Mr Cheng has been in the post for a little over five years.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne told a Senate Estimates hearing on Thursday she had not been able to speak directly to her counterpart, Wang Yi since the start of the pandemic about 18 months ago, but communication with the ambassador had continued in that period.

"I spoke to the Chinese ambassador some time ago now. My office spoke to him last week prior to his imminent departure," Minister Payne said.

Senior officials, including the Department's deputy secretary for the region, Justin Hayhurst had also spoken with Mr Cheng.

In a statement, Mr Cheng bid farewell to people "from all walks of life" in the community in Australia and said he appreciated their efforts in promoting friendship and cooperation between China and Australia.

"Sound and stable" relations between the countries serves the interests of both and their peoples, he said.

"The current difficult situation facing China-Australia relations is saddening. It is hoped that the Australian side will work in the same direction with the Chinese side, on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, to overcome the difficulties and make joint efforts to push the bilateral relations back to the right track as soon as possible," he said.

Drawing upon language frequently used by the party-state, Mr Cheng evoked the builders of a "bridge of friendship" and urged the overseas Chinese in Australia would continue to inject more positive energy into the relationship.

Australia's deteriorating relationship with China was a component of growing concerns by officials.

Mr Hayhurst said risk of conflict over Taiwan was "very serious".

"We're concerned about the increase of air incursions into the Air Defense Identification Zone. We consider the risk of some sort of miscalculation is higher than before," he said.

"There's more activity, there's more pressure ... but conflict is not something we judge is likely in the medium term."

He said Australia had made its concerns known to Beijing at officials level, in lieu of direct ministerial contact which have been rebuffed all year.

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The hearing also heard an Australian citizen was detained by Chinese authorities under Hong Kong's controversial new national security laws. The Australian was released a few days later, but it is unclear if Australian officials were ever informed.

Mr Hayhurst said China did not view Australia as having standing on the issue.

This story China's ambassador to leave Canberra as regional stability 'deteriorates' first appeared on The Canberra Times.