Australia minister seeks to build China ties on visit

Australian foreign minister Bob Carr (L) watches a virtual tour of Shanghai with his wife Helena Carr (2nd L) at the Urban Planning Museum in Shanghai on May 12, 2012.

SHANGHAI - Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Saturday the controversial deployment of US Marines in his country had not provoked a strong response from Beijing.

The first batch of 2,500 US Marines to be deployed in Australia arrived in Darwin last month as Washington bolsters its presence in the strategically vital Asia-Pacific, to the irritation of China.

"It was a relatively muted response (from China)," Carr told reporters in China's commercial hub of Shanghai, the first stop on an official visit.

"I would be surprised if China's policy makers and strategic thinkers didn't recognise the rotating Marine presence in northern Australia as a relatively modest development."

The American troops will be stationed in Australia on a six-month rotational basis, building to more than 2,000 by 2016-17.

China's foreign ministry called for "peace and stability" in the region after the first group of 200 US Marines arrived in Australia in April.

But China's defence ministry criticised the move as proof of a "Cold War mentality" and state media accused US President Barack Obama of using his diplomatic ambitions in Asia to detract from US economic woes.

Carr, who became foreign minister in March, also said he would seek to deepen economic integration with China on the six-day visit.

China is a major trading partner of Australia and a keen consumer of its resources, needed to keep the world's second largest economy moving.

"Australia is a good site for Chinese direct investment and I want to seize the opportunities I've got here to remind the government," he said.

He added that China's interest in negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) with Australia had picked up. The two countries have been negotiating such an agreement for seven years.

"China's interest in and commitment to the FTA process has quickened somewhat," he said.

Carr said he would also raise the cases of Australian nationals jailed in China when he meets Chinese leaders next week.

Earlier this month, a Chinese court sentenced Australian businesswoman Charlotte Chou to eight years in jail for embezzlement, but her supporters have linked the trial to a business dispute.

That followed last year's jailing of Australian businessman Matthew Ng for 13 years on bribery and embezzlement charges, following his involvement in a battle with a state-owned travel company for control of another firm.

"You can expect me to continue to raise these concerns and express the view that these cases should be handled transparently, expeditiously and in an open court," he said.

Carr will meet China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Vice Premier Li Keqiang, widely tipped to be the country's next premier, in Beijing next week.

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