Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has criticized Taiwan's decision to hold a referendum on U.N. membership, calling it "completely inappropriate." Smith made the comments during a meeting in Canberra with his counterpart from China, which may soon overtake Japan as Australia's biggest trading partner. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
Stephen Smith says Taiwan's decision to hold a referendum March 22 on whether to pursue U.N. membership would foster neither "stability nor harmony" in North Asia. His comments came at a joint news conference Tuesday with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. Yang is in Canberra for the first strategic dialogue between Australia and China.
Beijing regards Taiwan, which split from the mainland in 1949, as a breakaway province, and opposes any move that looks like a step towards formal Taiwan independence.
Australia, like most countries, agrees with China on the issue. The U.S. government has been among those criticizing the upcoming referendum as a possibly destabilizing factor in Northeast Asia.
Australia also has another reason to stay in Beijing's good graces, however. China has a huge appetite for Australian commodities, and is on track to overtake Japan as Australia's biggest trading partner.
Smith says enhancing economic ties with emerging powerhouses China and India is a priority for the Australian government.
"The emergence in this century of India, which we've said we need to and want to have a stronger and better relationship with, and the emergence of China, [we] see North Asia as being very important to us," Smith said. "And so I'll be underlining that strategic point as part of the strategic dialogue."
Foreign Minister Yang repeated Beijing's position on climate change, which is a hot issue in Australia.
He insisted that Beijing would continue to do what it could to deal with climate change. But he says developed countries, such as Australia and the United States, should have the major responsibility for combating global warming, because they are the highest per-capita emitters of greenhouse gases.
Yang said China's emissions per person were only one-third those of the highly developed nations. However, with more than one-point-three billion people, China is expected to catch and pass the United States as the greatest overall producer of greenhouse gases.
Yang's two-day visit to Canberra has also included talks with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.