Barely 24 hours after President Bush addressed the Australian
Parliament in Canberra, Chinese President Hu Jintao will take the
same podium Friday.
Both leaders are traveling down under in large part to strengthen
bilaterial economic ties. Thursday, the US and Australia agreed to
wrap up a free-trade accord by year's end, while Mr. Hu's four-day
visit is expected to bring Canberra closer to another such agreement
The back-to-back visits to Australia by the US and Chinese
leaders are the latest boost for Australia's vision of itself as a
fulcrum between Asia and the West. That it is Hu, rather than
another Asian visitor, enjoying the symmetrical visit with Bush,
underlines China's growing economic and diplomatic importance within
The Chinese visit is also an important ratification of
Australia's decision in recent decades to reorient itself toward the
neighboring markets of Asia - an effort that has faced some recent
Earlier this month, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN) agreed to form a European-like economic community by 2020.
Australia was not included. One of ASEAN's key leaders, Malaysian
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad this week suggested that Australia
doesn't enjoy warmer relations in East Asia because it sees itself
as a regional policeman.
"It's a very important political moment - the visit by President
Hu reflects the fact that this Asian giant takes a much more mature
view towards Australia as compared to countries in Southeast Asia
who prefer to keep making jibes about it being the US's deputy in
the region," says Stuart Harris, professor of International Studies
at the Australian National University and a former head of the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. "And no one in Asia can
ignore what China does."
Greater economic ties with Australia are seen as a boon for the
continent's economy. In anticipation of the visit, the Australian
dollar hit a six-year high.
China is Australia's third largest trading partner after Japan
and the US, with two-way trade reaching about $14 billion a year.
Described as a "complementary" relationship by Prime Minister
John Howard in that Australia exports raw materials like iron ore
and and other minerals in exchange for toys, clothes, and other
manufactured goods, it's a trade that is set to increase.
Last year, the two countries signed a liquid-natural-gas deal
which is expected to yield $17 billion to Australia over the next 25
years. It was Australia's largest ever single contract.
Experts predict that in 20 years, China will be a global giant
with more regional influence than ever before, and in order to
benefit, Australia must be included in regional forums like ASEAN
and the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) as quickly as possible. …