As Labor works on a climate policy ahead of the election, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has tried to turn the attention to China.
“It is appropriate that China – as the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter and as a country vulnerable to the impacts of global warming – takes on a greater leadership role on climate change,” he told a conference at the Australian National University in Canberra.
Managing environmental pressure was a challenge to China’s economic development, he said.
While China is now the largest emitter of greenhouse gases per year, the US has emitted more in total.
China’s emissions per capita are far smaller than Australia and the US.
China has set a target to slash the emissions intensity of its economy and is investing heavily in renewable energy.
But it also has been blamed for the failure of the UN’s Copenhagen climate summit in December.
Mr Smith had other advice to give in his wide-ranging speech to the ANU’s China Update conference, calling on China to be more open about its military activities.
China had nuclear weapons and was “an emerging player” in the international arms marketplace.
“These strategic realities bring with them responsibilities, including the need for greater openness and transparency in relation to capabilities and strategic doctrine,” Mr Smith said.
China, as an ally of North Korea, had a “special role” to play in resolving the stand-off over the rogue nation’s nuclear program.
Mr Smith said both Australia and China were working hard on a free trade agreement. China is Australia’s largest trading partner.
Negotiations in Beijing in late June were conducted in a “pragmatic and constructive spirit”.
But Mr Smith noted it was a large and complex agenda. The next talks will be in Australia later this year.
The foreign minister sent the message that Australia was open to Chinese investment.
Since Labor took office in 2007, it had approved more than 180 Chinese investment proposals, valued at around A$60 billion.
No proposal had been rejected and only five had been altered.
“Australia maintains … a consistent, open and welcoming stance towards foreign investment, wherever it comes from, including from China,” Mr Smith said.
Economist Ross Garnaut told the conference that a tectonic shift in global economics – power shifting from developed to large developing countries – had been accelerated by the global financial crisis.
Nations such as China had fared fairly well out of the crisis, as the US and Europe suffered a “self-inflicted wound” which set them on a lower-growth path.
Professor Garnaut was the federal government’s advisor on climate change but did not comment on Mr Smith’s remarks.