Chinese president begins Australian visit

Hu focuses on relations in speech to Parliament

October 25, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CANBERRA, Australia - Chinese President Hu Jintao addressed Australia's Parliament yesterday, a privilege accorded to him just one day after President Bush, and a juxtaposition almost inconceivable even a year ago in a nation long fearful of China.

Hu officially laid out in his speech what has become obvious: that Australia's natural resources, particularly oil and gas, are playing a critical role in fueling China's fast-growing economy.

But in his parliamentary appearance, Hu went beyond economics by painting China as an all-around global player that was reaching out for broad diplomatic and cultural relations, including an increase in the already tens of thousands of Chinese students attending Australian universities.

In contrast, Bush, in his address on Thursday, dwelled on a narrow agenda of the campaign against terror and his gratitude to Australia for sending troops to Iraq.

The biggest difference was in style, with an almost complete role reversal of what might be expected. The Chinese leader was gregarious; the American president aloof.

Bush left after spending 21 hours in Australia, stuck to the capital, and was whisked around in motorcades on routes swept clear of ordinary people. He declined to hold a news conference and was criticized in the usually pro-American press here for offering little beyond a pledge to get the outline of a free trade agreement with Australia completed soon.

Hu is staying for three days. He took the traditional outing for visiting dignitaries - a cruise on Sydney's harbor. He met with Australian business executives at a working lunch, and, in an unusual move for a Chinese leader, held a news conference, albeit a fairly scripted affair.

"Bush came, Hu conquered," read a headline in the Financial Review, a conservative business newspaper.

To reinforce the Chinese leader's theme, the two sides signed a letter of intent for a $21 billion deal calling for the China National Offshore Oil Corp. to take an equity stake in an Australian natural gas field, and to buy the gas over a 25-year period.

The deal, slightly bigger than a similar one between China and Australia last year, would "lock in" Australia as Beijing's biggest gas provider, Trade Minister Mark Vaile said.

Speaking to the Parliament, which was specially reconvened to hear the presidents, Hu stressed that "China and Australia are highly complementary economically."

This appeared to be largely a reference to the vast quantities and types of Australian natural resources: iron ore, alumina, as well as natural gas. China is Australia's third largest trading partner, and within five years could replace Japan as the largest, Australian officials said.

Since 1996, when John Howard became prime minister, trade between China and Australia has tripled, an important factor in Australia's current long ride of economic prosperity.

In his welcome to Hu in Parliament yesterday, Howard said that Australia would have "close but different relationships" with China and the United States.

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