Airspace zone downplayed in China-Australia talks

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BEIJING (AP) - Australia's foreign minister said Saturday that economic matters rather than a dispute over China's recently declared maritime air defense zone dominated talks she held with senior Chinese officials.

Julia Bishop told reporters that during Friday's talks in Beijing, both sides stated their stances on the zone before "we moved on to other serious issues that overshadow that regional issue."

Last month, China declared the air defense zone over the East China Sea, drawing protests from Japan, South Korea and the United States. Australia is worried the new zone could escalate tensions in the region, but China has chided Australia for its criticisms.

Bishop said the airspace zone made up "a small proportion" of the discussions and that the two sides also talked about North Korea, Syria and Iran. But the dialogues centered on economic matters, including the prospects for a free trade agreement, she said.

Australia relies heavily on China for its exports of minerals and agricultural products.

"We spent a significant amount of time on the economic relationship and on investment," Bishop said.

On Friday, after emerging from his meeting with Bishop, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi issued a statement critical of Australia's stance on the air defense zone.

"Australia's words and actions on the issue of China's establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone has damaged the mutual trust and affected the healthy development of the relationship between the two countries," the statement read.

On Saturday, Bishop said the Australia-China relationship remains strong.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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