CHINA / National

Howard trip reflects 'best ever ties'
Updated: 2006-06-26 08:43

In another sign of increasingly strong ties, Wen's visit in April secured a landmark deal clearing the way for the importation of Australian uranium to fuel China's booming nuclear power industry.

Australia, which holds about 40 percent of the world's uranium reserves, said it was satisfied that safeguards would be in place to ensure the radioactive element would not be used in nuclear weapons.

In contrast, it has so far refused pleas from India for a similar deal because Delhi has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Australia and China are also in the early stages of negotiating a free trade agreement. If it goes ahead, it will be China's first free trade deal with a developed economy.

China is now Australia's second largest trading partner after Japan. Australian exports to China soared 46 percent to 16 billion Australian dollars (12 billion US) in 2005 while imports rose 19 percent to 21 billion Australian dollars.

But while economic issues were driving the relationship to a certain extent, China's growing regional influence was also a major element, Cook said.

"A lot of Australian foreign policy interests are in increased integration into East Asia, and China is taking up a leadership role in East Asian regionalism," he said.

Page: 12