A truck carrying iron ore moves along a road at the Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) Christmas Creek iron ore mine located south of Port Hedland in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, November 17, 2015.  Picture taken November 17, 2015.
A truck carrying iron ore moves along a road at the mine located in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang's visit to a lithium processing plant in Western Australia during the last leg of his Australian visit brings the country's focus on securing critical minerals.

China tops the list of countries that imports iron ore and lithium from Australia, as the U.S. attempts to disrupt Beijing's supply dominance. Iron ore is important for the steel industry, and lithium is required in the manufacture of electric vehicles, smartphones and other electronic devices, Reuters reported.

About 39% of the world's iron ore came from Western Australia, making it a lucrative export. Three years ago, when China prohibited exports from Australia after it asked for a probe in Wuhan on the origin of Covid virus, iron ore was excluded from the trade ban.

Chinese companies have been seeking to increase stakes in critical minerals including rare earths in Australia. However, recently, Australia blocked investment from a Chinese-owned company in a rare earth miner citing national interests, and Chinese acquisition of a lithium mine, last year.

Raising the issue at the business roundtable in Perth, Li said China expects Australia to provide "a fair, just and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese enterprises."

Australia has, meanwhile, maintained that it would approve of increasing Chinese stakes when deciding whether companies qualify for tax credits under a new program of incentives.

Albanese pointed out his government wants to create jobs in the mineral sector and sell to a broader market.

"Our commitment to investing in local manufacturing doesn't mean cutting trade ties or pulling-up the economic drawbridge. Far from it," he said. "International partnerships and the inflow of foreign investment will continue to be crucial for Australia as we modernize and diversify our economy, even as we take steps to secure our economic sovereignty and build resilience in sectors that are vital to our national interest."

Australia also has the same concerns as the U.S. about China's supply chain dominence.

Regarding this, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had written in The West Australian that Australia would make sure 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.

On Tuesday, as Li toured the lithium hydroxide processing plant owned by Tianqi Lithium Energy Australia, Chief Executive Frank Ha told the Australian Financial Review the company was not seeking incentives, but wanted a "fair go."

Li had also visited iron ore miner Fortescue's clean energy research facility in Perth.

Fortescue's chairman Andrew Forrest said Australia's security concerns about Chinese investment in the critical minerals sector were overstated, AP reported.

"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.

Calling Li's visit "positive point of progress," Business Council of Australia chief executive Bran Black said dialogue is important to improve bilateral relations. "It shows that whilst the parameters of a bilateral relationship are set by governments, they will always be sustained by the quality of the personal relationships and especially those personal relationships that subsist on a business-to-business level."

Apart from focusing on critical metal, China will offer 15-days visa free travel for Australian citizens as the two nations look to improve bilateral relations on all fronts, including trade and military, ABC News reported.

"We agreed to provide each other with reciprocal access to five-year multiple entry visas for tourism, business and visiting family members — so as to better facilitate personal exchanges, China will also include Australia in its Visa Waiver Program," the Chinese premier said.

After the high-level dialogue between the two leaders, Albanese said the relations between the two countries are back on track.

"One of the very practical measures that we spoke about was improving military-to-military communication so as to avoid incidents," he said referring to the sonar attack on HMAS Toowoomba, last year.