Xi hopes to strengthen Australia ties

June 20, 2010 12:00 am

, MELBOURNE, Jun 20 – China\’s leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping said he hoped his stay in Australia, the first high-level visit since the jailing in Shanghai of a Rio Tinto mining executive, would lead to a stronger bond with the key trade partner.

The visit by Vice-President Xi is set to focus on economic issues, including Canberra\’s hotly-argued plans for a 40 percent tax on mining profits, a policy that has raised concerns about higher commodity prices in Beijing.

"Our two sides should build on our current strong relationship," Xi said through a translator on Saturday.

"In the next few days I look forward to meeting your leaders, senior officials and people from many other sectors for further exchange of views on how best to further advance the China-Australia relationship."

Xi\’s visit is the first since Australian-passport holder and Rio Tinto mining executive Stern Hu was jailed in Shanghai in March, and follows the resumption of free-trade agreement talks.

But it is the mining tax that is likely to deeply engage Xi, who is tipped to succeed President Hu Jintao in 2013, when he meets with Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Canberra on Monday.

The tax on so-called "super profits", which resources companies furiously oppose, has raised concerns that it could increase the price of raw materials such as iron ore, which China needs for its development.

"Chinese companies are interested to see the development of the resource tax. They will express that," Chinese ambassador Zhang Junsai said last week.

"As long as they see a stable political situation and legal framework (and) they know they can make money here, they don\’t have to worry," he told The Australian newspaper.

Zhang said Xi\’s visit signalled that the Beijing-Canberra relationship had moved past ructions caused last year after the arrest of Hu and his subsequent jailing on bribery and trade secrets charges.

Hu, former head of Rio\’s Shanghai office, was jailed for 10 years for taking kickbacks from Chinese steel firms and stealing corporate secrets.

Diplomatic tensions were further strained after exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer visited Australia in a trip strongly criticised by Beijing, who claim she is a terrorist.

Tight security surrounded Xi as he arrived in Melbourne on Saturday, as he began the final leg of a foreign tour that also included Bangladesh, Laos and New Zealand.

He was met by about 50 protesters from the Falun Gong spiritual movement, along with some 30 Chinese supporters, as he arrived to open a traditional Chinese medicine institute in Melbourne on Sunday.

Xi will be welcomed to Parliament House in Canberra later Sunday and will address the Australia China Trade and Economic Forum lunch with centre-left Labor Prime Minister Rudd the following day.

His visit will also allow for some cultural experiences, with the Chinese vice-president watching an Australian Rules football match on Saturday and set to tour part of the Kakadu National Park in the Outback Northern Territory during the week. His visit concludes on Wednesday.


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