SYDNEY (AP) -- Australia and China pledged Tuesday to deepen their ties on everything from trade to tourism, a show of unity that comes at a delicate time in Australia's relationship with China's chief rival for Pacific power, the United States.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is visiting Canberra for talks with his Australian counterpart, touted a free trade agreement the two nations signed a year ago as a success, while vowing to take a "firm stand" against protectionism.
"At the time when we face an international situation that is full of uncertainties, we agree to send a clear message — that it is important to firmly commit to an open world economy," Wang told reporters through an interpreter. "It is important to steer economic globalization toward greater inclusiveness, broader shared benefits and in a more sustainable way."
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia is committed to ensuring the free trade agreement with China continues to grow, and said the countries plan to cooperate more on tourism, regional infrastructure, innovation and energy.
"Australia reassures China that we are a reliable partner and that we will continue to place a strong trade and economic relationship as one of our highest priorities," Bishop said.
The vows of cooperation come just as Australia's relationship with its longtime ally, the U.S., is hitting its lowest point in decades. Australia was disappointed, though not surprised, by President Donald Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. Relations soured further after a tense phone call between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refugee resettlement deal struck by the previous Obama administration.
Australia is strategic to America's push in the Pacific against a more assertive China. The U.S. and Australia have increased their military cooperation as part of the Pacific pivot, with American Marines now rotating through a training hub in the northern port city of Darwin.
Bishop took pains to say the relationship between China and the U.S. was one of the most significant in the world.
"We look forward to there being a deeper, more positive engagement between the U.S. and China, and Australia will do all it can as a strong strategic partner of both countries to encourage that deeper, constructive engagement for the benefit of our region and beyond," she said.
Wang said China's relationship with the U.S. has long withstood difficulties, and that the countries' interests remain intertwined, particularly in trade.
"For any sober-minded politician, they clearly recognize that there cannot be conflict between China and the United States because both will lose," Wang said. "And both sides cannot afford that."