CANBERRA - President Xi Jinping Wednesday hailed China's warmest-ever relations with Australia after a successful state visit that his counterpart Tony Abbott called among "the most remarkable days of my life".
Xi has been feted in Australia, both during the G20 summit in Brisbane and on trips to Sydney, Hobart and Canberra, and he noted that since his first visit in 1988 relations had been "moving forward with a strong momentum".
"My personal experience has given me the impression that earth-shaking changes have taken place in this relationship," he added at the Australia-China State and Provincial Leaders Forum in Canberra.
"What we have achieved is unimaginable back over two decades ago," he said through a translator, adding that he and Abbott had drawn a "new footprint" for relations during his three-day state visit following two days of G20 talks in Brisbane.
"We have decided to elevate this relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership. This symbolises that our relations will embrace broader prospects," Xi said.
During the visit Xi and Abbott sealed a bumper free trade deal that abolishes tariffs in the lucrative resources and agricultural sectors as Canberra confronts a painful downturn in mining.
They also committed to greater Antarctic cooperation, with Abbott gushing in his praise of the leader of a nation that is Australia's top trading partner.
"I have personally felt very privileged these last few days to have spent so much time with President Xi, and to have felt so much warmth personally," he said.
"These have been some of the most remarkable days of my life.
"The transition of China from the third world to the first world... is a transformation unparalleled in human history. It is the greatest human advance of all time. And we here in Australia are so lucky to have benefited from that rise." Xi leaves Australia later Wednesday for New Zealand, where trade and investment will again be the theme.
"With China's strengths in infrastructure and manufacturing and New Zealand's advantages in agricultural science and technology, IT and clean energy, the two countries have much to offer to each other," he said in an open letter to the New Zealand Herald.
New Zealand and China already have a free trade agreement signed in 2008, but Xi said there was scope to further expand links in areas such as television production and to cooperate on aid projects in the Pacific.
China displaced Australia as New Zealand's largest export market last year and two-way trade between the nations was almost NZ$22 billion ($17.4 billion) in the year to June 2014, according to official figures.