China and Australia on Tuesday pledged deeper ties on everything from trade to tourism, a show of unity that comes at a delicate time for Australia’s relationship with the United States, The Shanghai Daily reported on Wednesday (Feb 8, 2017).
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is in Canberra for talks with his Australian counterpart, hailed a free trade agreement the two nations signed a year ago as a success, while vowing to take a “firm stand” against protectionism.
“At the time when we face an international situation that is full of uncertainties, we agree to send a clear message that it is important to firmly commit to an open world economy,” Wang told reporters. “It is important to steer economic globalization toward greater inclusiveness, broader shared benefits and in a more sustainable way.”
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said her country is committed to ensuring the free trade agreement with China continues to grow, and said both plan to cooperate more on tourism, regional infrastructure, innovation and energy.
“Australia reassures China that we are a reliable partner and that we will continue to place a strong trade and economic relationship as one of our highest priorities,” Bishop said.
She urged China to consider joining a trade pact abandoned last month by US President Donald Trump, who has said he prefers bilateral deals.
“I want to encourage China to consider the agreement,” Bishop said, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Calling on nations to be open to offshore investment, Wang said Beijing would link its “One Belt, One Road” policy with Australia’s plan to develop its remote northern region.
The program announced by President Xi Jinping in 2013 envisages investments by China in infrastructure projects, including railways and power grids in central, west and southern Asia, as well as Africa and Europe.
Australia has ambitious plans to develop its Northern Territory, a frontier region with little infrastructure, but efforts have largely stalled for lack of investment.
The vows of cooperation come as Australia’s relationship with longtime ally the US is hitting its lowest point in decades.
Australia was disappointed, though not surprised, by Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the 12-nation TPP. Relations soured further after a tense phone call between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refugee resettlement deal struck by the Obama administration.
The US and Australia have increased their military cooperation as part of the Pacific pivot, with US Marines now rotating through a training hub in the northern port city of Darwin.
Bishop said the relationship between China and the US was one of the most significant in the world.
“We look forward to there being a deeper, more positive engagement between the US and China, and Australia will do all it can as a strong strategic partner of both countries to encourage that deeper, constructive engagement for the benefit of our region and beyond,” she said.
Wang said China’s relationship with the US has long withstood difficulties, and that the countries’ interests remain intertwined, particularly in trade.