But Ferguson said that the deal, which follows ExxonMobil's $21bn sale of Gorgon LNG to India's Petronet last week, showed that the relationship between the two countries remained strong.

'Foreign investment'

"We are a country built on foreign investment and we continue to welcome investments that develop our resources for the benefit of all Australians," he said in a statement.

"This agreement is testimony to the strength of Australia's continuing
trade and investment relationship with China.

"As China continues to develop as a modern global industrial and commercial
powerhouse, Australia is committed to walking with it on its remarkable journey."

News of the deal came as Stephen Smith, the foreign minister, confirmed that China had recently cancelled a trip by a senior minister because Australia allowed Rebiya Kadeer, an ethnic Uighur Muslim who lives in exile in the United States, to visit for a film festival.

China accuses Kadeer of inciting riots between Uighurs and members of the dominant Han Chinese group in Xinjiang in July that killed at least 197 people. She has denied the accusations.

In parliament on Tuesday, Smith described the Kadeer situation, as well the bribery and infringement of trade secrecy charges filed against Rio Tinto employees, as "difficulties that we have in our relationship with China" that the country was "managing".