CANBERRA: China and Australia signed agreements yesterday on the peaceful use of nuclear energy and uranium supply, which have been hailed as a landmark in bilateral relations.
Premier Wen Jiabao and his Australian counterpart John Howard witnessed the signing of the pacts following one-and-half hours of talks.
"China-Australia relations have never been as good as they are today," Wen said at a joint news conference with Howard following the signing ceremony.
"There are no issues left over from history and there are no cultural matters standing in the way of bilateral relations."
Wen arrived in Canberra on Sunday on an official visit, the first stop of a four-nation tour that will also take him to New Zealand, Fiji and Cambodia.
He flew in from Perth, the capital of Western Australia, where he attended a briefing on Australia's abundant energy and other natural resources.
The country has 40 per cent of the world's known uranium reserves.
Australia requires countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to agree on separate nuclear safeguards with Canberra before it exports uranium.
Wen stressed that China would honour the safeguards pact and its responsibilities under the international atomic energy and non-proliferation treaties.
"We believe these safeguard mechanisms will ensure that nuclear co-operation will not be used for non-peaceful purposes," he told the news conference.
Six other inter-governmental pacts and documents on education, agriculture and safe coal-mine production as well as a series of commercial deals on mineral products, natural gas and power were also signed yesterday.
Howard said the nuclear and other commercial deals highlighted the rapidly-developing relations between Australia and China.
"Of all the important relationships that Australia has with other countries, none has been more greatly transformed over the last 10 years than our relationship with China," Howard said.
The two governments also agreed to step up negotiations on the establishment of a free trade area.
Bilateral trade has seen rapid growth and hit US$27.3 billion last year. China is Australia's second-largest trading partner and also its second-largest overseas market. Energy and mineral products account for about 60 per cent of Australia's exports to China, which has become Australia's largest buyer of iron ore and nickel.
Referring to the soaring cost of iron ore, Wen said the price should be determined by market forces.
Chinese buyers are in price talks with leading suppliers BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Group of Australia and Brazil's Companhia Vale do Rio Doce for setting a new price this year.
China reportedly buys about half of Australia's annual iron exports, worth about 18 billion Australian dollars (US$12.6 billion).
In a speech delivered at a banquet hosted by Howard yesterday, Wen said China adopts a path of peaceful development.
"It is by no means an expediency. Rather, it is a fundamental choice and solemn commitment made by the Chinese Government and people," he said.
(China Daily 04/04/2006 page1)