Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Wednesday that China is the most important economic and strategic partner of Australia and she is looking forward to an enhanced bilateral relationship through her visit this week to China and Prime Minister Tony Abbott's visit next year.
Bishop made the remarks at an interview by Chinese reporters prior to her visit this week. She is expected to take part in the annual Foreign and Strategic Dialogue between China and Australia and meet her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi later this week.
The dialogue is part of a series of annual bilateral consultative mechanism established during the visit to China by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in April this year when leaders of both countries agreed to upgrade bilateral relationship to strategic partnership.
Bishop said China is Australia's major trading partner, with bilateral trade exceeding 120 billion AU dollars (110 billion US dollars) last year. China is also Australia's largest source of overseas students and second largest source of tourists and skilled migrants.
She said the government is looking forward to a free trade agreement with China in 12 months as Abbott said earlier.
"We are very keen to enhance our trade relationship with China. It's already a very important trading relationship and we hope that given the free trade negotiation having been on foot since 2005, that we will be conclude a high quality free trade agreement within 12 months because it will be in the national interest of China and Australia to liberalize trade, to ensure that we can enhance an existing market and should be for the mutual benefit of both countries."
As for Australia's position on China's recent announcement of Air Defense Identification Zone, Bishop said the Australian government supports Chinese President Xi Jinping's view that there should be regional cooperation.
"We made our position clear to the Chinese government and we had a number of discussions about it. We have reconfirmed that we do not take sides in territorial disputes and we haven't in this case and we won't."
As China will be hosting APEC and Australia hosting G20 in 2014, Bishop said the two countries work closely together at multilateral forums.
"Between those two forums we hope to be able to coordinate our efforts and Australia and China can work closely together on the economic agenda and increase trade and investment in the region," she said.