Gillard Announces Annual China-Australia Talks in Boost to Ties

Australian and Chinese leaders will hold annual talks in an effort to boost ties, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said, as she called for stepped up defense cooperation including three-way military exercises with the U.S.

The decision for an annual meeting between the two countries’ prime ministers was “a breakthrough in our relationship,” Gillard said at a briefing after she met Premier Li Keqiang today. In a speech earlier in the day, she said the two countries started naval drills almost three years ago and the region will benefit from closer engagement.

Gillard underscored her nation’s alliance with the U.S. while seeking to build the relationship with China. The ruling Communist Party has aired concern over a U.S. decision to shift its strategic focus toward Asia, including stationing Marines in northern Australia, as President Barack Obama conducts a military “pivot” away from the Middle East.

“I am committed to a relationship which goes well beyond the economy,” Gillard said in a speech at the Australia China Economic & Trade Forum before meeting Li. “Defense cooperation, which is already far broader and more effective than I think is generally understood, will grow.”

In September, then-U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta invited China to send a ship to the Rimpac naval exercise, which is held every two years off the coast of Hawaii, in 2014.

Increased Presence

Obama is promoting an increased presence in the Asia-Pacific area as an opportunity to boost cooperation in the region, where China’s military power is expanding. Australia’s northern port of Darwin began hosting Marines a year ago.

Gillard said yesterday that China will start direct trading between the yuan and Australia’s dollar tomorrow. She said talks on a free-trade agreement would take place in May.

“Around the world countries are competing for China’s attention,” Gillard said at the briefing. “We will command attention here in China.”

— With assistance by Michael Forsythe

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