CHINA’S Premier Li Keqiang is projecting his country as the world’s leading free trade advocate during a five-day visit to Australia this week.
The state visit comes shortly after Foreign Minister Julie Bishop drew the ire of China after she said Trump’s America should play a greater role in Asia and that China would benefit from democracy. A government think tank accused Bishop of “arrogant finger-pointing.”
When asked about Bishop’s comments, Li stated “in the future, we hope friends in various fields in Australia can uphold this spirit, abandon ‘you win, I lose’ and ideological prejudices.”
China is Australia’s largest trading partner, having long driven export demand from the Australian resources sector.
Li said the country would further open its services, manufacturing and mining sectors, state news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday.
China has vowed to streamline administrative procedures for foreign investments and ensure a level playing field for companies registered in the country, even as foreign enterprises struggle with protectionist policies.
Shipments of live cattle to China by two Australian companies began in February, with a third to follow between March and June. The quantity remains relatively low, however, with 150,000 head of cattle expected to be sent to China this year.
In comparison, Australia shipped some 250,000 cows to its other vital trading partner Indonesia between June and September 2016 alone.
Australia is seeking to take advantage of China’s decision earlier this week to suspend meat imports from Brazil, the world’s biggest exporter of beef and poultry, due to a scandal over sales of rotten and salmonella-tainted meats.
Beef producers are hopeful they can further increase exports of frozen beef to the Chinese market.
Meanwhile, Li denied China was militarising in the South China Sea on Friday.
“China’s facilities, Chinese islands and reefs, are primarily for civilian purposes. Even if there is a certain amount of defence equipment or facilities, it is for maintaining the freedom of navigation,” he said.
Australia has previously drawn criticism from China for running surveillance flights over disputed islands in the South China Sea and called on China to obey international norms in the strategic waterway.
Bilateral talks are being held on Friday, with a range of new deals expected to be on the table as well as the announcement of the next phase of the China-Australia free trade agreement.
“I believe these discussions will have positive results,” said China’s Vice-Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang.
Li will next head New Zealand and meet with Prime Minister Bill English on Monday.