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Australian PM meets with China's Wen

26 april 2011, 13:07
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Tuesday, kicking off a visit in which she has pledged to press Beijing on human rights and discuss growing trade, AFP reports.

The trip is Gillard's first to China, Australia's top trading partner, and comes at a time when the communist country is waging its toughest crackdown on dissent in years.

The two leaders went in for talks at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, with Gillard scheduled to hold a press briefing in the afternoon.

She is set to meet President Hu Jintao on Wednesday at the conclusion of her trip.

Before arriving in the capital late Monday, Gillard vowed to raise Australian concerns over human rights in meetings with Chinese leaders and urged Beijing not to take "backward steps" on the issue.

"I will be meeting with President Hu and Premier Wen and I will be raising human rights as we talk through the breadth of our relationship," Gillard said last week before starting her week-long trip to Japan, South Korea and China.

China's government has drawn criticism from around the world with its severe clampdown, launched after anonymous online appeals emerged in February calling for weekly protests to emulate those that have rocked the Arab world.

Rights groups say scores of activists and lawyers have been detained, including prominent artist Ai Weiwei, a staunch critic of the ruling Communist Party, who the government says is being investigated for "economic crimes."

A bilateral trade relationship worth some US$50.6 billion annually will also be high on the agenda of this week's meetings.

Gillard is hoping to "inject some momentum" into long-standing free trade negotiations with China in her talks with political and business leaders.

Her visit to China follows the release of a survey Monday showing 75 percent of Australians saw China's growth as good for Australia, but 57 percent believing there was too much Chinese investment Down Under.

The poll commissioned by the Lowy Institute foreign policy think tank also showed 58 percent thought Canberra was not doing enough to pressure Beijing on human rights, though that was down from 66 percent a year earlier.

Relations between Canberra and Beijing have been rocky in recent years, reaching a low point in 2009 with the arrest and subsequent jailing of four employees of mining giant Rio Tinto, including Australian citizen Stern Hu on economic espionage charges.

Late last year, Australian travel services executive Matthew Ng was detained by police on suspicion of embezzlement, further stoking fears among foreign investors about the rule of law in China.

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