The deal has paved the way for the supply of Australian uranium for China’s nuclear power program and for the two nations to co-operate on peaceful uses of nuclear technology.
The agreement ensures that any exported uranium will only be used to generate power for China’s rapidly growing economy and China has promised it will only use the fuel for peaceful purposes only saying it takes seriously its obligations as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency and as a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).
“This (uranium) is solely for peaceful purposes,” Mr Wen, in Australia on a four day visit to boost bilateral ties said following the signing of the agreement. “We must proceed with our co-operation in this field on the basis of mutual respect, mutual benefit and equality,” he said.
But critics are worried about whether China will adhere to strict safeguards aimed at preventing Australia uranium being used for military purposes. Mr Howard said he was satisfied safeguards would be enforced. “It’s on that basis that the agreements have been signed,” he said.
Opposition Leader Kim Beazley seems happy with the agreement. “China has shown the world that it is a responsible nuclear power and that it is committed to the international community’s efforts for nuclear non-proliferation,” he said. “This is important to Australia – we are about to become the world’s largest supplier of uranium.”
Asked if Labor’s three mines uranium policy could hamper supply to China, Mr Howard said the opposition policy already appeared to be crumbling. Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane said he did not expect any uranium sales to China before 2008.
Meanwhile, both nations have agreed to accelerate negotiations on a free trade deal in a bid to seal an official agreement within two years.