CHINA / National

Australian PM's China visit reflects 'best ever' ties
Updated: 2006-06-25 14:52

SYDNEY  - Australian Prime Minister John Howard's visit to China this week to launch a multi-billion dollar gas deal reflects a readiness to accept Beijing's growing economic and political clout as an opportunity, not a threat.

Howard's conservative government has repeatedly indicated that it does not share the qualms expressed by close allies the United States and Japan over the regional giant's expanding power.

"We welcome China's growth and China's development," Howard said after meeting in Canberra in April with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. "We see it in a positive light."

Howard will meet Wen again in the southern province of Guangdong during a visit from Tuesday to Thursday, where they will oversee the official opening of a 25 billion dollar liquefied natural gas program.

The contract to supply gas to Guangdong for 25 years -- Australia's largest single trade deal -- got underway last month with the first shipment from the giant North West Shelf field off Western Australia.

The gas deal is just one plank of a fast-expanding trade partnership that has largely been fueled by exports of natural resources from Australia to China, and is part of generally warm relations between the two countries.

"I think the official term used to describe relations is 'the best ever' -- and that's probably right," said Malcolm Cook, Asia-Pacific program director for Australia's independent Lowy Institute think-tank.

"One of the things that strikes you if you look at the Japanese, US and Australia approaches to China, Australia's is much less ambivalent and cooperative and sees the rise of China both economically and diplomatically as an opportunity," he told AFP.

Australia did not perceive China as an economic threat, partly because its own manufacturing industry was relatively small, and rather than being concerned about the security implications of China's rise was worried that the US and Japan would overreact.

"Both the prime minister and foreign minister (Alexander Downer), when they talk about rise of China, consistently take the line that it is not automatically going to cause conflict and competition," Cook said.
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