Australian prime minister won't choose between China and US

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, left, and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull clap during a signing ceremony in Canberra, Friday, March 24, 2017. Prime Minister Turnbull and Premier Li oversaw the signing of bilateral agreements that will expand their two-year-old free trade pact. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia does not have to choose between the United States and China, the Australian prime minister said Friday as he announced a new beef export deal with the Chinese.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang oversaw signing of bilateral agreements that will expand their two-year-old free trade pact.

China also agreed to remove a cap that allows only 11 Australian beef exporters to sell 400 million Australian dollars ($300 million) in frozen meat to the burgeoning ranks of the Chinese middleclass.

China will be open to all eligible Australian beef exporters.

"Australia is the only country in the world with this market access," Turnbull told reporters. "This new agreement will drive significant future growth."

Turnbull later rejected arguments that Australia must choose between its most important security partner, the United States, and its most important trading partner, China, as tensions escalate between the world's two largest economies.

"We have a staunch, strong ally in Washington — a good friend in Washington — and we have a very good friend in Beijing," Turnbull told reporters.

"The idea that Australia has to choose between China and the United States is not correct," he said.

Li, who on Wednesday warned Australia against "taking sides, as happened during the Cold War," agreed with Turnbull.

"We believe China-Australia cooperation will bring good to other countries and regions, and this cooperation will not be targeted at any third party," he said through a translator, referring to the United States.

The United States has questioned aspects of the rapidly evolving commercial relationship between the Chinese and Australians, including Australia's decision to allow a Chinese company, Landbridge, to secure a 99-year lease over the strategically important Port of Darwin.

Darwin has become training hub for U.S. Marines in northern Australia.

On Friday, the two witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between China State Construction Engineering Corp. and New Zealand-owned BBI Group to build a AU$6 billion iron ore mine in Australia.

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