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Australian Government Denies Getting 'Too Cozy' With China


Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has defended his government's pursuit of closer ties with China. His comments follow criticism by opposition politicians who have accused Mr. Rudd of being too close to the Chinese.

Australia's links to China, its second biggest trading partner, have come under scrutiny after the conservative opposition in Canberra claimed that the relationship had become "far too cozy".

The criticism emerged after it was revealed that two senior Chinese officials, including a Communist Party propaganda chief, recently visited Australia without the public's knowledge.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is in London for this week's G20 economic summit, ignored a question about the secrecy surrounding the visits. Instead, he said that robust ties with China are important and that Australian jobs depend on them.

Although China's demand for Australian minerals has shrunk because of the global financial crisis, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says that relations with the Chinese had to remain strong.

"Let's be very clear, very clear, about Australia's relationship with China. It's absolutely essential in the course of this century that Australia have a very strong relationship with China. This is all in Australia's national interest," said Smith.

Australia's opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, thinks, however, that the Rudd government has become too close to China. He accuses the prime minister of acting like a "roving ambassador" for Beijing.

Turnbull says he worries that the government's links with the Chinese could result in Australia's natural resources being sold too cheaply.

"Issues of our ... dealings, our relationship - our friendly relationship, I might add - with China are of important national interest," said Turnbull. "We have big questions to debate all the time about foreign investment. There are big issues around at the moment and our dealings with China, as indeed with other major powers, are matters of intense public interest."

Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has been drawn into the dispute after he admitted that he did not declare two trips to China when he was an opposition lawmaker in 2002 and 2005. An Australian-Chinese businesswoman paid for the trips.

Last week, Treasury officials in Canberra blocked a $1.8 billion takeover bid of Australian company at OZ Minerals by the Chinese company Minmetals because of national security concerns. The deal would have included a gold and copper mine near a sensitive missile facility in the Australian desert.

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