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News Analysis: Gillard's visit to China a watershed in Beijing-Canberra relations

By Xu Haijing ( )

11:17, April 11, 2013

CANBERRA, April 11 (Xinhua) -- As Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard wraps up her visit to China this week, she would be bringing home a package of deals that are expected to further boost the already strong China-Australia relations.

Most importantly, Gillard and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed to elevate the relationship between China and Australia to the level of "strategic partnership".

This new description of bilateral relation is both an endorsement of present situation of bilateral relations and also a direction for future development.

The evolution of China-Australia relations in the past 40 years is a story of success, especially in terms of trade and business connections.

Bilateral trade between Canberra and Beijing had increased a thousand fold since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1972.

China has been Australia's largest trading partner and a major importer of Australia's iron ore, coal and energy products.

For quite some time, political relations between Australia and China were widely regarded as the short board of the barrel.

Local media had repeatedly urged Australian government leaders to visit China more frequently in order to further cement the two countries' bilateral relations.

During Gillard's visit, her second visit to China in three years as prime minister, a new political architecture was forged.

Under the new mechanism, the Chinese premier and Australian prime minister will meet annually.

The newspaper, The Australian, has proudly claimed that this new arrangement is "placing us with a small group of considerably more populous countries."

On top of that, the Foreign and Strategic Diaologue and the Strategic Economic Diaologue will also be held annually to allow foreign ministers and heads of economic departments from both countries to meet every year.

In the more sensitive area of defense, China and Australia have agreed to set up new initiatives between the Australian Defence Forces and the People's Liberation Army, including a strategic policy exchange bringing together military officials from both sides to discuss regional security issues.

"A strategic relationship should be comprehensive and all- around," Chinese Ambassador to Australia Chen Yuming said recently.

Gillard's schedule in China demonstrated that Australia's understanding of "Strategic Partnership" is the same as that of the Chinese.

During her visit, Gillard talked to business leaders from both countries, signed a number of bilateral agreements, including one that allows direct trade using Australian dollar and Chinese renminbi, and another one that concerns carbon trading.

In her visit, Gillard also introduced plans for a new tourism campaign in China and pushed for more bilateral cooperation in education, science and research and in addressing the issue of disease control.

Some local media compared Gillard's visit to the ice-breaking visit by then Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to China, which resulted in the founding of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1972.

It is not an exaggeration to call Gillard's China visit " historic" or "a cornerstone," as what the Australian media said, because with its scope and depth, the visit deserves the description, analysts here said.

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