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Australia not starry-eyed about China - Smith

By Sandra O'Malley, Diplomatic Correspondent
Tue Oct 27 00:50:03 EST 2009
Mon Oct 26 13:50:03 UTC 2009
EDS: Reissuing to drop attribution from intro.

CANBERRA, Oct 26 AAP - Australia isn't starry-eyed about its relationship with China, acknowledging the differences that arise between a robust parliamentary democracy and a communist nation.

While the federal government took a realistic approach to the relationship, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said it was crucial to remember the importance of ties between China and Australia.

"The scale and the ramifications of the relationship are, however, often under appreciated," he said in a speech to the Australian National University's China Institute on Monday.

Mr Smith chided those who tended to highlight the negatives in the relationship between Canberra and Beijing rather than looking at the more "enduring picture".

Much of the focus this year has been on a number of high-profile cases, including the detention of Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu, Beijing's disapproval at the visit to Australia by exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer and the failed grab for a greater share of Rio Tinto by China's state-owned Chinalco.

"Australia is clear-eyed, not starry-eyed, in its assessment of China and its view of the bilateral relationship," Mr Smith said.

"We recognise the significant economic and social progress that has been made in China on many fronts, and look forward to its continuation."

Australia, however, was ware of challenges China faced, such as environmental and pollution pressures, as well strengthened legal protections and protecting human rights.

The Chinalco issue raised many concerns locally about China's wealthy state-owned enterprises taking control of key Australian resource companies.

Mr Smith reassured the audience, which included China's ambassador in Canberra Zhang Junsai, that Australia welcomed foreign investment from wherever it came, including China.

"Despite a contrary view sometimes being expressed in Australia, the facts tell a very positive story about Australia's welcoming policy and posture towards investment from China," he said.

"Since November 2007, the Australian government has approved over 100 investment proposals from China to acquire Australian businesses ... (some) 96 were approved unconditionally."

The Rudd government, Mr Smith said, had approved Chinese investment worth over $38 billion.

"We welcome this investment," he said.