Prime Minister Tony Abbott sought to quash perceptions of an end to the mining boom at the outset of his first Bali Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) bilateral with the world’s second most powerful leader, President Xi Jinping, last night.
The West Australian reports the two leaders met just hours after the PM arrived in Bali, ahead of the formal start of the APEC summit.
Abbott kicked off the high level meeting with his Chinese counterpart by claiming that China’s growing strength is a benefit to the world and not a challenge.
“Certainly we in Australia owe much of our prosperity to rapidly growing trade relations between our two countries, “said Abbott, continuing his rapid immersion in international diplomacy.
“We have a strong relationship and it’s my fervent hope we can make it even stronger in the months and years ahead.”
It is understood Mr. Abbott used the meeting to state his enthusiasm for a free-trade agreement between Australia and China, which Trade Minister Andrew Robb has been given three years to conclude. Talks on a China-Australia FTA started in 2005 but have advanced at a glacial pace.
Mr. Xi congratulated Mr. Abbott on his election victory and welcomed the Prime Minister’s “positive attitude on growing the Australia-China relationship”, saying China was ready to work with Australia.
“I also firmly believe that as important countries in the Asia Pacific region, China and Australia entering into closer co-operation not only serves the interests of both our countries but will also add positive energy to the region,” he said.
After the US shutdown grounded President Barack Obama in Washington, Mr. Xi has become the undisputed star act at APEC. Like the US, which under the Obama administration announced a “pivot” towards Asia in foreign policy, China is keen to expand its influence in South East Asia.
Government sources said Mr. Abbott was expected to make a point of re-assuring Australia’s second largest trading partner that it was not closing the doors to mining investment, despite Labor’s claim during the election campaign that the boom was at an end.
According to news.com.au, the message to China was simple; the new Australian government would not pose a sovereign risk to the mining and resources sector with the abolition of the carbon tax and mining tax.
Mr.. Abbott is keen to use the APEC summit to meet as many regional leaders as possible.
APEC’s 21 member economies represent 56% of the world’s GDP and $437.8 billion, or more than 70 per cent, of Australia’s trade in goods and services.
“Economic engagement with our region is a priority for the Government and APEC is the leading regional forum for promoting trade liberalisation and economic integration,” said the Prime Minister.
“Australia is committed to progressing the negotiations as a way of strengthening trade and investment ties in the region to deliver better export opportunities for Australian farmers, manufacturers and service suppliers.”
A bilateral meeting had been scheduled with Mr. Obama for tomorrow but US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to step in.
Later this week, Mr. Abbott flies to Brunei for the eighth annual East Asia Summit of the 10-member countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, which includes China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the US.