Handshakes, but no questions

CHINA and Australia marked 40 years of diplomatic ties with carefully scripted handshakes in Canberra - but also a firm gag to prevent any polite media questions for the visiting Chinese dignitary, the highest ranking woman in the Politburo.

Meanwhile, the same day, the American ambassador to Australia held court with a speech at the National Press Club to extol the "sparkles of hope" in the US economy.

Coincidence? Or perhaps a subtle but deliberate message to contrast democratic openness with communist authoritarianism?

"Pure coincidence," insisted US envoy to Australia, Jeff Bleich, adding the date was the first available at the press club after the presidential election.

"No messages intended or unintended."

But the difference was obvious between the tightly controlled event Prime Minister Julia Gillard hosted for China's State Councilor Liu Yandong and the freewheeling Californian ease on display at the press club.

Ms Liu also held "picture opportunities" throughout the day with Foreign Minister Bob Carr, Governor General Quentin Bryce and former PM Bob Hawke - griping hands and smiling for the cameras, but with officials hovering close by to stifle any attempt ask about recent leadership changes in China.

But Mr Bleich was very happy to talk about the re-elected Obama administration, giving an upbeat assessment of the chances to avoid what is known as the "fiscal cliff" and dismissing talk the US wants to contain China in a throw-back to the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

"No one is going to be able to contain a nation of 1.3 people with the economic power of China and the aspirations of the Chinese people. It's silly to think that could be done." Mr Bleich said.

It was four decades ago the newly installed government of Gough Whitlam officially recognised the People's Republic of China, having previously sided with the US and refused to recognise the communist regime.

Back when the first Australian embassy was established in the Chinese capital, the trade surplus with China stood at a smidge under $13 million ā€“ a figure that now stands at over $33 billion.

To celebrate the anniversary of diplomatic relations, Ms Gillard and Ms Liu presided over a signing ceremony for a bundle of scientific and educations agreements.

But nary a question allowed.

The story Handshakes, but no questions first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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