SYDNEY, Apr 4 – Prime Minister Julia Gillard will lead a heavyweight team to China on Friday touting not just better ties and trade but also the lofty ambition of putting Asia at the heart of Australia’s future.
“I’ll be leading the most senior Australian political delegation ever to visit China,” Gillard told foreign correspondents on the eve of departure.
“I will be among the first Western leaders to meet the new leadership,” she noted.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr, Trade Minister Craig Emerson, who is also responsible for Australia’s Asian Century policy, and Financial Services Minister Bill Shorten are among senior politicians on the April 5-10 trip.
“I’ll be promoting our trade and economic interests and sharing perspectives on global and regional economic and security challenges,” she said.
The prime minister will meet President Xi Jinping at the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan and will have talks in Beijing with Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
Gillard said she wanted not only “to celebrate our existing strong relationship and its underpinnings… but to look ahead to how we can build the comprehensive relationship envisioned in our Asian Century White Paper, including how leaders can help deliver a relationship of greater depth and durability in a more complex future”.
“The timing of this visit so soon after the new leadership has entered into office is deliberate and reflects the importance of our rapidly evolving relationship with China,” she added.
“And more broadly, it reflects the centrality of Asia in the story of our nation for the 21st century.”
The Canberra government last October unveiled an “Australia in the Asian Century” plan setting education and business targets to hoist the nation into the world’s top 10 economies.
Gillard underlined that her second visit to China followed trips to India, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore as her government seeks to bolster Australia’s standing in the region.
“Thanks to the relationships and capabilities we’ve built over four decades, Australia is pushing on an open door as we enter the Asian Century,” she said.
“Asia has the wealth and the demand. Whether we meet that demand is entirely up to us,” she warned, noting Europe and the Americas were eyeing the same opportunities.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner with two-way goods and services worth Aus$128 billion (US$134 billion).
It also provides the greatest number of overseas students to Australia with 150,000 enrolments in 2012, and the second largest source of overseas visitors — 626,000 last year.