, NUSA DUA, Oct 7 – Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Monday he hoped a free trade agreement with China could be concluded within a year, as he pushes for deeper ties with the Asian giant.
In Bali for a gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders, Abbott told journalists that he had met President Xi Jinping late Sunday and confirmed he would travel to China in the first half of 2014.
“I think it was a good meeting,” Abbott said. “Australia has a strong relationship with China and it’s in everyone’s interests that that relationship grows stronger and broader and deeper.”
Abbott said he would take a “significant” delegation with him when he travels to China, not just business leaders but also some state premiers, and delegates from academia, science and culture.
“I want the relationship with China to be on as broad a basis as possible,” he said.
Speaking about the prospects for a long-negotiated free trade deal between Australia and China, Abbott said increased trade and investment was crucial for the prosperity of nations, including Australia.
“It would be wonderful if a trip (to China) towards the end of the first half of next year was consummated with an agreement here,” Abbott said.
“That might be a little too optimistic but our intention is to move as quickly as we can. And I have to say I would be disappointed if we can’t conclude a significant free-trade agreement with China within 12 months.”
Abbott, who led a conservative Liberal/National coalition to victory over the incumbent Labor Party in elections in September, said he wanted to ensure that Australia had a “fair share” of Chinese investment.
“We welcome foreign investment, including foreign investment from China,” he said, adding it would be good for jobs and economic activity.
“It should be good for government revenues and it will certainly be good for prosperity back home in Australia,” Abbott said.
The Australian prime minister also issued a warning to activists, after three Papuans occupied the Australian consulate in Indonesia’s Bali, calling for pressure on Jakarta on human rights.
Abbott said the three agreed to leave after “lengthy discussion” with consular staff.
“Australia will not give people a platform to grandstand against Indonesia, we have a very strong relationship with Indonesia. I want that to be absolutely crystal-clear,” he said.
“Second point I make is that the situation in West Papua is getting better not worse, and I want to acknowledge the work that President Yudhoyono has done.”