Sat, Oct 25, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Australia asked to help unify China

POLITICS AND BUSINESS Chinese President Hu Jintao became the fourth foreign leader to address Australia's parliament and said he expected help with `reunification'

AP , CANBERRA

Australian Green Party leader Senator Bob Brown adjusts the television in Parliament House, Canberra, to watch proceedings as Chinese President Hu Jintao gives a speech to a joint sitting of the Australian Parliament yesterday. Brown was expelled from the House of Representatives for 24 hours yesterday when he interrupted US President George W Bush while he was giving a speech.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) yesterday became the first Asian leader to address Australia's parliament and urged Canberra to play a "constructive role" in unifying Taiwan with China.

Hu made his appearance less than 24 hours after US President George W. Bush gave a speech before the special joint session.

Hu pledged to let Australia benefit from his country's explosive economic growth, but hinted that doing business with Beijing also hinged on Canberra respecting China's sovereignty and not commenting on its internal affairs.

Hu and Prime Minister John Howard witnessed the signing by their officials of four separate trade and economic treaties, including a potentially lucrative energy deal for China to invest in liquid natural gas development in Australia.

The main "framework agreement" sets a "road map" for the conduct of trade and economic ties. The leaders also agreed to a preliminary study on a free-trade pact.

Hu became only the fourth foreign leader -- after three US presidents, including Bush on Thursday -- to address the parliament.

He told a special joint sitting that Beijing expected Canberra to play a "constructive role in China's peaceful reunification."

"A peaceful solution to the Taiwan question serves the interest of all the Chinese people ... just as it serves the common interests of all countries in the region, including Australia," he said.

At a joint press conference afterward, Howard reaffirmed Australia's commitment to a "one China" policy that sees Taiwan as part of Chinese territory.

The honor extended to Hu angered some lawmakers.

"The parliamentary address sets a precedent by honoring the head of a totalitarian regime in the elected chamber," said Senator Brian Harradine, an independent lawmaker who boycotted the speech.

In his address, Hu said that Beijing was "ready to be your [Australia's] long-term and stable cooperation partner."

"I am convinced that this framework will help steer our bilateral cooperation in economy, trade and other fields to continuous new highs," he said.

The natural gas deal will see China take a stake in an Australian company to open up new liquid natural gas fields off the west Australian coast. Howard said the deal could be worth even more than a similar contract inked last year that is worth A$25 billion (US$17.5 billion) in exports over the next two decades.

Together, the two gas deals make Australia a key supplier of energy to the world's most populous nation and an economy expected to treble in size over the next 20 years.

Hu emphasized it was important for both countries to "respect each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity and stick to noninterference in each other's internal affairs."

On Thursday, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer deflected criticism that too much attention was being focused on economic links during Hu's visit and not enough on China's human-rights record.

"What we've done in the past is talk with the Chinese about some of the sensitive issues, which is Tibet and the Falun Gong and freedom of speech and these kinds of traditional human-rights and civil-liberties issues," Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

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