SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia and China agreed on Tuesday to share intelligence about potential financial crime as part of a crackdown on cross-border money laundering and terrorism financing.


Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan, who is in Beijing, said the agreement between Australian financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC and its Chinese counterpart CAMLMAC would allow both countries to target and disrupt organized criminal networks.


"Following the money trail is an essential element in tackling serious and organized crime," Keenan said in an emailed statement.


China has been trying to get increased international cooperation to hunt down suspected corrupt officials who have fled overseas since President Xi Jinping began a campaign against deeply-rooted graft more than three years ago.


The intelligence sharing agreement will boost China's pursuit of corrupt officials and business executives and their assets, a chase dubbed "Operation Foxhunt."


Some Western countries have been reluctant to help, or sign extradition treaties, not wanting to send people back to a country where rights groups say mistreatment of criminal suspects remains a problem, and also complaining China is unwilling to provide proof of their crimes.

"China is now Australia’s largest trading partner," Keenan said."Organized crime is opportunistic and will exploit the strong trading relationship between our two countries to traffic drugs and engage in serious financial crimes."

The statement did not provide further detail on the agreement, but Keenan was due to address the media later Tuesday.

(Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)