Australia, China Seek to Boost Economic Ties as U.S. Pulls Back

Australian and Chinese officials held talks in Beijing Saturday aimed at tightening trade and economic ties between the two countries, just as the Trump administration increases scrutiny on the trading practices of the world’s biggest exporter.

The two nations worked across “a whole range of issues, starting off first and foremost with our combined commitments to grow our economies but also resisting against protectionism,” Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison told reporters after the meeting. The officials also discussed investment, competition and income policies. China’s capital curbs are not badly affecting Chinese investment in Australia, Morrison said.

Scott Morrison speaks in Beijing on Sept. 16.

Photographer: Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photos

Australia is the most China-dependent economy in the developed world and two-way trade between the two countries is worth more than A$155 billion ($124 billion). A large chunk of that is Australian raw materials including iron ore and coal that helped build and fuel the plants at the center of China’s industrialization.

China is now trying to transition from a heavy-industry driven economy to one led by internal consumption and this is showing up in tourism Down Under: some 1.2 million Chinese visitors came to Australia in 2016, compared to just 500 people 40 years earlier.

Yet China has faced a backlash over investment in Australia. Polls show Australians think too much Chinese property buying is allowed Down Under, where buoyant house prices have become a political issue. The government tightened scrutiny of farmland sales to Chinese buyers in 2015, with purchases of at least A$15 million needing to be screened for approval. When it comes to investment in China, Australia is behind, putting more cash into the tiny nation of Papua New Guinea than the world’s second-largest economy.

In a statement ahead of the meeting, Morrison and Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said that Australia and China share an interest in open global trade and investment. The two nations signed a Free Trade Agreement in 2014. 

The closeness of the two nations when it comes to trade stands in contrast to the growing tension between the U.S. and China. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last month announced an investigation into China’s practices on intellectual property, technology transfer and innovation.

— With assistance by Tian Chen, and Michael Heath

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