Kevin Rudd was elected Prime Minister boasting about his special affinity with China, but 18 months later Australia’s relationship with China is at its lowest level in 40 years, the Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Minister for Trade, Warren Truss, said today.

“There is an Australian businessman in detention without charge on suspicion of espionage, the Australia/China Free Trade negotiations have been stalled for seven months and resource contract negotiations are in disarray. Yet, no-one senior in China will even talk with Prime Minister Rudd, Foreign Minister Smith or Trade Minister Crean,” Mr Truss said.

“Mr Rudd may be making more overseas trips than any previous Prime Minister but when it comes to getting results, he is a real lightweight on the international stage. Now we have an Australian in trouble, he cannot or will not help.”

Australia’s relationship with China has been in freefall for months. On coming to office, the Rudd Government slashed funding for the Australia/China free trade agreement negotiations. The 13th round was held in December last year but no progress is being made and no date has been set for the 14th round. Mr Crean describes the negotiations as “stalled at the technical level”.

The Prime Minister and Trade Minister have regularly talked up negotiations on the proposed FTA, speaking of the “special relationship” between Rudd’s Canberra and Beijing.  Mr Rudd even said last year that he had agreed with President Hu Jintao for “a fresh approach to speeding up the conclusion of this agreement even more”.

But negotiations have gone backwards, Mr Truss said. The talks are now as frozen solid as a Harbin ice sculpture. 

“Instead of pursuing the Coalition’s approach for a comprehensive agreement across all sectors, the Rudd Labor Government has now decided to pursue discussions sector by sector.  This approach will almost certainly lead to a low quality agreement offering little in key areas such as investment, agriculture, education services and intellectual property.”

Australia has allowed itself to be strung along with promises that the Communist Party senior leaders would eventually provide impetus for a deal.  But last weekend, Mr Crean was embarrassed when the highest placed person he could meet to discuss the case of imprisoned Australian citizen Stern Hu was a very junior Shanghai official. Labor’s “special relationship” now apparently allows China to snub even Australia’s highest ranking ministers and officials. 

Mr Truss said Australians have learned a lot over recent weeks about the way China mixes business and affairs of state.  Their version of a “free market economy” is very different from what the rest of the world expects.  Australia’s recovery from its economic downturn will be slow if we cannot get our relationship with China back in order.

“Mr Rudd has long had a confused approach to trade. In Opposition, he gave up on a multi-lateral trade agreements, saying in 2006 that Doha was ‘as dead as a dodo’. Now he and Mr Crean are pinning their hopes on reviving Doha even though there are few gains left on the table,” Mr Truss said. “But if your negotiations with our biggest trading partner are in hopeless disarray, what have you got left?