Foreign and Military Affairs

Gillard to focus on trade ties

Updated: 2011-04-25 08:00

(China Daily)

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Business leaders to join first China trip by Australian PM in three years

BEIJING - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard will arrive in Beijing on Monday to cement relations with her country's biggest trade partner.

Gillard to focus on trade ties

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and a soldier from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea look at each other through the window of the UN Command Military Armistice Commission meeting room at the border village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone that has divided the Korean Peninsula since the 1950-1953 Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, on Sunday. [Photo/Agencies]

It will be Gillard's first visit to China since she took office last year, and the first time an Australian prime minister has visited China in the past three years.

Gillard will be accompanied in Beijing by a large trade mission, with representatives of some of Australia's leading companies such as BHP Billiton Ltd and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd.

She is expected to meet Chinese leaders including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing.

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Official releases show that trade and the economy will be the main topics of Gillard's trip, the last leg of her maiden East Asian visit that has already taken her to South Korea and Japan.

China is Australia's biggest trade partner, while Japan and South Korea rank in second and third place.

Chinese Ambassador to Australia Chen Yuming told the media last week that agreements will be signed during Gillard's visit as "China is keen to further strengthen its already robust economic cooperation with Australia".

Among the agreements, the two countries will set up a joint scientific research fund, said Chen.

They will also discuss the establishment of a free trade zone between the two countries, said Chen. A total of 15 rounds of negotiations have been held so far on the topic, according to Chen.

China now ranks as Australia's biggest export market and source of imports, with a quarter of Australia's exports going to China in 2010, up from just 4 percent a decade ago, according to figures from Australia's statistical authorities.

In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, China was the third-largest source of foreign investment in Australia.

John Lee, a research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, writing in The Australian newspaper, said that Australia is now caught in a foreign policy dilemma as, for the first time, Australia's leading trading partner is no longer a strategic ally such as the United Kingdom or the United States.

Julie Bishop, Australia's opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman, said Gillard's government hasn't focused enough on China and will need to spell out its views on balancing a traditional alliance with the US and its vital economic relationship with China.

"There's no end to debate in this country on whether the US should be sharing primacy with China, or whether the US will continue to have superior military and strategic power. It's time the government said something about its position," Bishop said.

Trade, defense and regional security will need to be on the agenda, according to Linda Jakobson, East Asia program director at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute for International Policy.

"There are increasing concerns about the security dimensions of China's rise what will this mean for security. To strike the right balance is going to be a challenging task for the prime minister," Jakobson told the Wall Street Journal.

Gillard said earlier that she will raise human rights issues in talks with Chinese leaders during the visit.

According to Ambassador Chen, leaders from the two sides will "have frank discussion, and the Australian side will have the opportunity to learn about the progress China has made in fields including human rights".

"Our two countries have different political systems, cultures and ideologies. So it is only normal that we sometimes have different views regarding some particular issues," said Chen.


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