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Howard: Australia, China Enjoy Strong Relationship

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said in Sydney Thursday that he is looking forward to meeting the Chinese new leadership later this month and discussing how to make the Australia-China relations stronger.

At a news briefing with a group of Chinese journalists on his visit to China on Aug. 17-19 here, Howard said the agenda will also highlight regional security issues, including the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula.

He said China is a very close and important partner of Australia in many areas, enjoying close economic relations and strong people-to-people ties.

The prime minister expressed satisfaction with the development of the bilateral relations over the past years, saying "they have been growing very strongly."

China is Australia's third largest trading partner and its fourth largest export market, buying 9 billion Australian dollars (US$5.81 billion) worth of Australian goods and services last year. Two-way trade was worth 23 billion Australian dollars (US$14.86 billion) in 2002.

He said "I think it is important that I meet the Chinese new leadership." He had hoped to meet them in May in a regional gathering but it was disrupted by the outbreak of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic.

Howard stressed the leaders' exchanges between the two countries have served to help "get the bilateral relations on a good basis."

"I am pleased that I am having this early opportunity (to visit Beijing) after SARS," he said.

Howard's upcoming visit will be his fourth China trip as prime minister, making him the Australian prime minister who pays the most visits to the country.

On the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula, Howard praised China's role in it as "very constructive and positive." "We will encourage the (Chinese) leadership to do that," he added.

"Every effort must be made to solve the problem of North Korea (DPRK) through diplomatic exchanges. We have made some progress. It's very important that we continue," he pointed out.

He also spoke highly of the Chinese immigrants in Australia as having made "very significant" contributions to the country.

(Xinhua News Agency August 8, 2003)

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