Eyeing stronger relations and greater opportunities for trade, Australian State Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews is preparing to travel to the upcoming Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation to be held in Beijing.

“There will be many different important meetings,” Andrews said in an exclusive interview on Wednesday. “(So it’s a) great opportunity to be there and to see the growth in the Belt and Road Initiative.”

The forum, scheduled from April 25 to 27, will welcome leaders including heads of state and government from 37 countries, as well as some 5,000 participants from more than 150 countries and 90 international organisations.

“It really is a platform that allows us to engage more closely with China not just China but across the whole region, really important opportunities for trade and export for every sector and that’s what the second forum will be about,” Andrews said.

“There will be many world leaders, but also many sector leaders, people who’ve got really important knowledge and understanding and key decision making responsibilities within lots of different sectors, many of which Victoria is very strongly placed, whether it’s in medical technology, education, infrastructure or professional services.”

A frequent visitor to China and a guest of the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in 2017, Andrews’ state government have made it a priority to build ties and strengthen its relationship with China.

Last year, Victoria signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with China on the Belt and Road Initiative, becoming the first one among all Australian states.

“To not engage at the Belt and Road Initiative level, I think would be a significant barrier to stronger relations between Victoria and China,” Andrews said.

“It sets us up, I think, for an even more productive and even more prosperous partnership as we look to the future.”

With two-way trade between the state and China now soaring to over 18.3 billion U.S. dollars annually, Andrews said “our partnership with China is very important to my government, very important to Victorian economic prosperity, jobs and investment … and the relationship has become a lot stronger in recent years.”

“We’ve set targets. We’ve set goals and we’ve always pushed our partners just as they’ve pushed us to find new ways to work together even more closely.”

But while the Belt and Road Initiative may bring significant economic benefits, it is the people-to-people ties that will provide the most prosperity, according to Andrews.

“The relationship between Victoria and China is in the strongest position it’s ever been, not just in a quantitative sense through dollars of exports or numbers of students, but I think in a qualitative sense as well,” he said.

“There is an abiding respect and affection … We have that sense of engagement and from that comes profound benefits for Victorians and … for the people of China more broadly.”

“On every level, including cultural links, partnerships between symphony orchestras, ballet companies, galleries and museums … there is a depth to this partnership that is very, very important today, and one that continues to grow.”