One of China's most powerful politicians, Vice Premier Li Keqiang, has urged Australia to put aside differences with Beijing that have strained relations between the two Asia-Pacific trading partners. Li's comments came at the conclusion of a visit to Australia Monday aimed at soothing diplomatic tensions. Relations between Canberra and Beijing have been strained in recent months following the arrest of a senior Rio Tinto mining executive on industrial spying charges and the visit to Australia of a Uighur dissident.
It has been a difficult year for Sino-Australian relations. Tensions that surfaced after the arrest of Stern Hu, a senior Australian mining negotiator, were exacerbated by Canberra's decision to allow Rebiya Kadeer, an exiled Uighur leader, to visit Melbourne.
Relations worsened further when Chinese attempts to buy stakes in Australian resource companies failed.
China has become Australia's biggest trading partner. Last year trade between the two nations was worth $66 billion.
Vice Premier Li's visit to Australia is widely seen as a high-level attempt to soothe diplomatic tensions.
Li is regarded as the third most influential political figure in China and at a special dinner in Sydney he warned that Australia should not stand in the way of Beijing's investment ambitions.
He also said it was time for both sides to put aside their differences.
"Therefore we should enhance dialogue, mutual trust and reduce mistrust, properly handle our differences so as to ensure that our bilateral relationship is not deviated from the main track of growth because of a particular incident at a particular time," Li said.
The diplomatic angst has been reflected in a poll by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute for International Policy, which found that the attitudes of Australians to their biggest trading partner are cooling. Forty percent said that China's emergence was a threat to their nation's vital interests, up 15 points since 2006, while half of the population believes there is too much Chinese investment in Australia.
In the past decade-and-a-half, China's strong demand for Australian resources has underpinned healthy economic growth. While exports and prices have fallen during the global economic slowdown, observers expect the trade in commodities to rebound to Australia's financial advantage.
Analysts believe that bilateral commercial ties have remained largely insulated from political pressures that have hampered diplomatic ties between Beijing and Canberra.
Despite Li's efforts to ease friction, the fraught Sino-Australian relationship could soon face further problems when Stern Hu goes on trial on industrial espionage charges and when exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, visits Australia next month.