Diplomatic relations between Australia and China may be warming, but Foreign Minister Penny Wong says the contest for influence in the Pacific is far from over.

Senator Wong says previous governments were inactive in maintaining Australia influence in the region, and that her government is working to make Australia the Pacific’s number one security partner.

Her comments come as she prepares to visit Papua New Guinea for talks this week.

“That is a very substantial and serious ministerial delegation to Papua New Guinea, and it’s because this government understands the importance to Australia of engagement in the Pacific.

We understand that it matters to Australia’s stability, security, prosperity in the region, and because we want to be and are being more involved members of the Pacific family,” said Wong.

Meanwhile, Australia and China have vowed to improve military-to-military lines of communication, including a new maritime affairs dialogue to avoid dangerous confrontations at sea or in the air following “candid” talks between Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Chinese Premier Li Qiang.

Australian tourists will also enjoy visa-free entry to China, while business people will be able to receive multiple entry visas, as the two leaders pledged to strengthen the free trade agreement.

The two leaders also announced a revamped economic strategic dialogue, which Li said would provide avenues to address trade disputes and ensure a “non-discriminatory” business environment, a swipe at what Beijing alleges is unfair curbs on Chinese foreign investment.

However, Li offered no comfort to lobster producers, which is the remaining industry suffering a de facto ban under Beijing’s now abandoned campaign of economic coercion.

Despite that, the leaders both offered warm sentiments. “Australia and China have renewed and revitalised our engagement,” Albanese said.

“This relationship is on the right track of steady improvement and development,” Li said.

Hours after a Chinese vessel and Filipino supply ship collided near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in the latest high seas clash, Albanese confirmed he raised recent near misses between Australian and Chinese militaries operating in the region.

Last month, a Chinese fighter jet dropped flares in the flight path of an Australian navy helicopter while it was patrolling international waters in the Yellow Sea. And in October, navy divers suffered minor injuries when a Chinese warship pulsed sonar waves while they were in the water.

“One of the very practical measures that we spoke about was improving military-to-military communication so as to avoid incidents,” Albanese said.

“Obviously, what will happen is that officials will go away and we’ll have that discussion about how that can be implemented in practice.”

The formal joint statement issued after the meeting said leaders would “continue or expand … political dialogue, including through the Defence Strategic Dialogue and Defence Coordination Dialogue, and convening an initial session of a bilateral Maritime Affairs Dialogue”.

While Australia’s Defence Force chief used to meet their Chinese counterpart, that was put on hold as part of the broader diplomatic freeze Beijing imposed.

In an attempt to encourage people-to-people links, Li said Australia would be included in China’s visa waiver programme. Details were unavailable, but it is understood to be similar to what Li announced for New Zealanders, where tourists would be able to travel to China for up to 15 days without requiring a visa.

The leaders also announced the two countries would implement reciprocal access to multi-entry visas of up to three to five years for business, tourism and visiting family members.

Five memorandums of understanding were signed following the meeting, covering the free trade agreement; expanding economic dialogue; co-operation on climate change; education and research including quality assurance for foreign students; and collaboration and exchanges in the arts.

However, details of the agreements will not be released until Li wraps up his visit in Perth on Tuesday.