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China-Australia Ties Are of Strategic Importance
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By Zhai Kun

President Hu Jintao is paying a state visit to Australia and is to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. This is President Hu's second visit to Australia since 2003, which shows that China attaches great importance to promoting Sino-Australian ties.

The in-depth development of the China-Australia cooperative partnership will largely help better the Asia-Pacific strategic environment in which China and Australia find themselves.

Australia is part of the Asia-Pacific region. The country's strategic focus has shifted to Asia-Pacific since Australia introduced in the 1980s the idea of integrating into Asia. Australia's chief areas of concern include the South Pacific, Southeast Asian and Northeast Asian areas and, therefore, the country is enthusiastic about getting involved in relevant security mechanisms.

China, Japan and the United States are the three primary trade partners of Australia. And Australia is trying to forge free trade areas with various countries in this region. For example, Australia-America and Australia-Singapore free trade agreements have been signed. Australia-China, Australia-New Zealand and Australia-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) are currently afoot. Australia-Japan talks on Free Trade Agreement (FTA) have been launched. And FTA negotiations with South Korea and India are in the pipeline.

Australia is also playing an active part in economic cooperation in Asia-Pacific. It was one of the sponsors that initiated the founding of APEC in 1989, for instance. It has also got involved in pan-Asian cooperative mechanisms, taking parting in the ASEAN forum in 1994 and the East Asia Summit in 2005. Besides, Australia is getting more and more extensively and intensively involved in exchanges with Asia. For example, Australia's national soccer team, as a member of the Asian Football Confederation, took part in the Asia Cup tournament this year. In the context of Asia's rise and the orders in Asia-Pacific being realigned, Australia, relying on its own efforts, is becoming a member of Asia, showing ever stronger Asia-Pacific attributes.

Australia is one of the primary economic players in Asia-Pacific. The nation's GDP ranks seventh in the region, after the United States, Japan, China, Russia, India and ASEAN. The country abounds in iron ore, coal, uranium and natural gas resources. The rapid growth of the Chinese and Indian economies serves to enhance Australia's status as a big resources supplying country.

Australia is pushing for ideas of sustainable development and plays a constructive role in tackling global environmental problems, through international organizations and regional cooperative mechanisms.

Australia is one polar of the Asia-Pacific strategic framework. The Australian-US alliance, for example, is becoming increasingly consolidated and Australia and Japan are "best friends" in Asia. Australia and China is working together to bring about an all-around cooperative partnership. Australia and ASEAN signed a statement on all-around partnership in July this year. Also, Australia and India echo each other in making efforts to reinforce the partnership between them.

Other parties are also wooing Australia in their efforts to make the latter a strategic factor balancing other players. This finds expression in the introduction of US-Japan-Australia and US-Japan-India-Australia strategic-dialogue mechanisms.

Viewed from a wider strategic perspective, Australia has become a sub-geopolitical center in Asia-Pacific in the context that the economic and strategic gravity of the world is shifting to Asia-Pacific.

Sino-Australian cooperation facilitates the improvement of Asia-Pacific's strategic environment. Both countries are newly emerging forces in the area. Their development is good for each other. China, for example, is becoming a primary dynamo powering the growth of the Australian economy. Bilateral trade was US$32.95 billion last year. China is now Australia's second largest trade partner and Australia ninth largest of China. Chinese professionals in various fields can help relieve Australia's manpower shortages. And Australia is China's major supplier of energy, resources and high-tech products and also an ideal venue for China's exports and overseas investment.

Besides, both countries can draw upon each other's strong points and advantages in their common undertakings of tackling the worsening environment, global warming and energy shortages and tapping nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. In this way, they can help power the progress of various cooperative mechanisms in Asia-Pacific such as APEC, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit.

According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, President Hu, during his trip to the APEC meeting in Sydney, will propose the establishment of a management network involving forest renewal and sustainable development in Asia-Pacific in a bid to bring into play the role of forests in cushioning global warming.

Australia recognizes China's status as a market economy, is open to bilateral free-trade talks, refuses to join the United States and Japan in their lobbying the European Union for an arms embargo against China, and is opposed to "Taiwan independence".

The reinforcement of China-Australia ties facilitates the further enhancement of Australia's strategic standing in the Asia-Pacific framework. Meanwhile, the voice inside Australia that the country serves as a bridge between China and the United States and between China and Japan is getting increasingly louder.

All taken, China-Australia cooperation, which manifests mutually sharing benefits, developing hand in hand, powering each other along and jointly coping with challenges, is conducive to driving the prosperity of Asia-Pacific. It is hoped that President Hu's Australia visit will help promote the two countries' mutual trust, expand their consensus and deepen their cooperation to bring about a better future for both.

The author is a researcher with China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

(China Daily September 4, 2007)

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