Despite the pressures of campaigning for a September election during the pre-budget parliamentary break, the Prime Minister plans to attend the Boao Forum for Asia, held on the Chinese island of Hainan each year, for the first time.
The visit would come after a period of strained relations between Australia and China over foreign investment policies, development plans and the establishment of a base for US marines in northern Australia. Last year the Gillard government did not even send a ministerial representative to the Boao Forum, which is styled as China’s version of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke said at the time that the government was allowing the relationship with China to “languish”.
Ms Gillard has been to China once before — on a two-day visit to Beijing in April 2011 — but did not attend the Boao Forum. In 2011, Trade Minister Craig Emerson attended the forum but there was no Australian ministerial representation in 2010 or last year.
John Howard and Kevin Rudd both attended the forum as prime minister.
For the election year, Ms Gillard has restricted her overseas travel but is looking at going to China as part of Labor’s push for integration with Asia after the release of the white paper on the Asian Century.
Last month, the forum’s secretary-general, Zhou Wenzhong, said in Beijing that this year’s forum would concentrate on development in Asia and expressed concern about growing “protectionism” and discord in the region.
“It’s important for Asian countries to achieve a higher level of economic integration, as this will help promote regional economic development,” Mr Zhou said.
The Chinese have invited more than 10 state and government leaders from Asia and other regions to the three-day forum, which begins on April 6.
At last year’s forum, Fortescue Metals Group chairman Andrew Forrest, one of the sponsors, said Australia had “dropped the ball” by not sending a minister.Source: The Australian – “PM to mend fences with Beijing by attending financial forum in April”
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