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Tuesday, 10 September 1985
Page: 376

(Question No. 221)

Senator Jones asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 18 April:

(1) Is there increasing evidence of an improvement in Sino-Soviet relations in view of the 6th round of talks between the two countries since 1982 aimed at formalising relations being opened recently in Moscow.

(2) What would be the likely effects of an improvement in Sino-Soviet relations on the Western Alliance in general and Australia in particular.

(3) Is there any genuine sign of a softening of relations between the Western powers and the Soviet Union since the emergence of Mr Mikhail Gorbachev as the new Kremlin leader on 11 March 1985.

(4) What is the latest information on genuine progress, if any, of the current round of arms limitation talks.

Senator Gareth Evans —The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) The sixth round of the talks began in 1982 between the USSR and China and took place on 9-22 April in Moscow. At the conclusion of this round of talks both sides reaffirmed their readiness to expand contacts in the political, economic, scientific and cultural areas. There has in fact been significant growth in the relationship in the last few years, particularly in trade. There has been no progress, however, on the three conditions which China has established for the normalisation and development of political relations. Furthermore, China has made it quite clear that it does not contemplate a return to the close relationship which prevailed during the 1950s. These points were confirmed in statements by Hu Yaobang, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, during his recent visit to Australia.

(2) Given the existence of such limits to a fundamental improvement in Sino-Soviet relations, andChina's clearly stated intention to pursue an independent foreign policy, it does not at present seem likely that the process of normalisation of Sino-Soviet relations will have a marked effect on the Western Alliance or on Australia. A reduction in tension between China and the Soviet Union, to the extent that it contributed to a general reduction of regional tensions, would be in accordance with Australia's interest.

(3) It is not possible to give a clear-cut or definitive answer to this question. It should be remembered that the most positive development to have occurred recently in East-West relations, the resumption of arms limitation talks between the US and the USSR, is the outcome of an agreement reached several months before Mr Gorbachev came to power. In general, Western countries have taken an attitude of cautious optimism to Mr Gorbachev's statement of willingness to reduce tensions, while noting that many of his specific proposals do not go beyond already familiar Soviet positions. It would therefore be premature to speak of a genuine softening of relations between East and West.

(4) The first round of the bilateral arms control negotiations betweens the Soviet Union and the United States took place in Geneva from 12 March to 23 April. Both sides' accounts of the first round indicate that it was largely taken up with procedural matters and presentation of views. No substantive progress was to be expected at the first meeting of what both sides recognise will inevitably be a long, slow process.