Gillard Secures Rare Access to China Leaders

Australian prime minister Julia Gillard “landed the foreign policy triumph of her leadership” by securing annual talks between Australian and Chinese leaders, according to Mark Kenny of The Sydney Morning Herald:

Its formal completion follows intense behind-the-scenes negotiations and came on the last day of Ms Gillard’s five-day visit to China in a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square.

It is understood the push to establish a strategic partnership, a long-held Australian ambition, was accelerated last year by Ms Gillard who believed the looming change in China’s leadership from then president Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao, to Xi Jinping and respectively, presented a new opportunity.

After writing to Mr Hu last April, she dispatched one of Australia’s most senior bureaucrats, Dennis Richardson, to Beijing to build the case.

Gillard formally announced the annual talks after meeting new Chinese premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Wednesday, the last stop on her “charm offensive” meant to promote broader ties with Australia’s largest trading partner. With the agreement, Australia has locked in face-to-face gatherings between Australia’s prime minister, treasurer, foreign minister and their Chinese counterparts.

John Garnaut of The Sydney Morning Herald ticked through the various other agreements reached between the two sides – including direct trading of the Chinese yuan, a pact on , and even a defense strategy – and applauded the outcome of Gillard’s visit:

Julia Gillard has not been known as an international stateswoman and nor is she a Sinophile but on Tuesday she ended years of leadership neglect and policy confusion to put the China relationship on track.

Which is just as well.

These days China not only underwrites the Australian economy, it sits at or near the centre of all the global challenges that matter to us most.