ENHANCING COOPERATION: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao hosts a ceremony to welcome Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Beijing on April 26 (LI TAO)
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard paid her first official visit to China since taking office last June from April 25 to 28 at the invitation of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. The two held discussions on strengthening the two countries' relationship.
They also participated in a signing ceremony of five cooperative agreements, covering areas ranging from science and technology to customs, tourism and trade in services. These included a $600-million deal to finance an iron ore project for Western Australia's Karara Mining Ltd.
The visiting Australian prime minister met Chinese President Hu Jintao as well. She also attended the China-Australia Economic and Trade Cooperation Forum in Beijing with Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang.
Flourishing economic ties
The agreements signed between China and Australia during Gillard's visit were a testament to their improving economic ties. China's Ministry of Commerce says bilateral trade volume in 2010 was $88.09 billion, increasing 46.5 percent from 2009. The volume during the first quarter of 2011 was $24.75 billion, realizing a 39.9-percent increase over the same period last year. Now China is the biggest cargo trade partner of Australia, while Australia is the eighth biggest of China.
China is also Australia's largest services export market, because of education and tourism. There were more than 167,000 enrolments of Chinese students in Australia in 2010, while 12 years ago that number was just 9,000, according to Australian statistics. Last year, there were nearly 450,000 arrivals from China in Australia.
Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang said, at the China-Australia Economic and Trade Cooperation Forum, that the Sino-Australian energy and resources relationship should go beyond just being a buyer-seller arrangement.
Energy and resources, including iron ore, coal and natural gas, are at the heart of the Sino-Australian relationship. Iron ore alone accounted for nearly half of Australia's exports to China from 2009 to 2010.
"With regard to energy and resources, China and Australia should improve their ways of cooperation and seek mutual benefit," he said. There is much room for the two countries to work together in the infrastructure sector, as Australia is boosting infrastructure construction while Chinese businesses have expertise and advanced technologies, Li said. He also suggested the two sides enlarge cooperation in service industries, medical care, food safety, finance and tourism.
"The two sides have greatly expanded their economic and trade cooperation by signing agreements during Gillard's visit," said Guo Chunmei, a researcher of Australian studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR). She said cooperation between the two countries' customs agencies, for example, marked a breakthrough in bilateral trade ties. The $600-million finance deal between the China Development Bank and Western Australia's Karara Mining Ltd. set a good example for bilateral energy cooperation.
The growing cooperation on resources does not simply mean China increases imports of Australian mineral resources. Australia has advanced mining technologies, and introducing these technologies to China was also a good way of cooperation, said Guo.