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August 21, 2009

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Aussies focus on common interests

AUSTRALIA'S relations with China, troubled by the recent arrest of an Australian mining executive and three staff members on allegations of commercial espionage, and by Australia's granting of a visa to a Uygur separatist, are challenging but worthwhile because of common interests, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said yesterday.

"We share enormous common interests with our friends in China but we have continuous differences," Rudd said. "They are differences of values and, from time to time, differences of interests."

He said that a calm, measured approach would help negotiate future bumps in the road.

The opposition Liberal party accuses Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat to Beijing, of ruining Australia's ties with China.

"It is time for the prime minister to act to restore the relationship that he has so seriously damaged with China," deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop told reporters in Canberra. "China is one of our most important trading partners and this deteriorating relationship will affect our national interest."

Trip canceled

China recently canceled a senior minister's trip to Australia in anger over Canberra's granting of a visa to Rebiya Kadeer, who China blames for the July riots in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region that killed 197 people. China's displeasure over her visit came as Australia voiced concern over China's arrest of four employees of mining giant Rio Tinto on charges of commercial espionage.

Rudd is expected to meet in coming days with Australia's ambassador to China, who returned to Canberra this week on a regular visit, and is certain to discuss the recent rifts.

Ambassador Geoff Raby arrived home on Wednesday for what Australian newspapers described as emergency meetings.

But Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said yesterday that the meetings were routine.

Smith called for calm in the relationship and said Australia was working through its differences with China methodically, including the arrest of Rio Tinto mining executive Stern Hu.

"Let's not get all very excitable about what's occurring. We have a long-term, positive, constructive economic relationship with China," he told reporters.


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