Australia-China Relationship Overview
This year is the 40th anniversary of Australia-China diplomatic relations. Australia regards the relationship with China as one of its most important. The bilateral relationship is based on shared interests and mutual respect, an approach which offers the best prospects to maximise shared economic interests, advance Australia's political and strategic interests, and manage differences in a sensible and practical way.
Regular high-level visits mark the maturity of the bilateral relationship and build on the friendship and understanding which has been forged by both sides over almost four decades. President Hu Jintao visited Australia in 2007, Vice President Xi Jinping visited in June 2010, and Vice Premier Li Keqiang visited in October 2009. Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited China in April 2011, followed by the Governor-General, HE Ms Quentin Bryce AC in June 2011. Ms Bryce launched the Year of Australian Culture in China. There are regular visits by Australian Ministers.
The bilateral economic relationship continues to develop rapidly. In late 2007 China overtook Japan to become Australia’s largest trading partner, and in 2009 became Australia's largest export market. Australia is China’s seventh largest trading partner. Forty years ago, two-way trade was less than $100 million. Now it is more than $100 billion.
Cooperation on climate change issues is an important part of the bilateral relationship. Since concluding a joint statement on closer cooperation in 2008, Australia and China have held two annual Ministerial Dialogues on Climate Change. In April 2010, Australia hosted technical workshops on greenhouse gas inventories for Chinese counterparts.
The bilateral science and research relationship has grown dramatically during the last three decades, since the treaty on science and technology cooperation was signed in 1980. Regular high-level visits demonstrate the strength and importance of the bilateral relationship. In August 2010 eminent Australian and Chinese scientists and policy makers celebrated Partners for a Better Future: Australia-China Science and Technology Week at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, highlighting the achievements of cooperation under the treaty and prospects for the future. In November 2010, Australia’s Innovation Minister, Senator Kim Carr, hosted Professor Lu Yongxiang, President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, at a dinner in Canberra to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the treaty.
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Australia’s establishment of diplomatic relations with China in 1972 by the Whitlam Government, together with Australia’s One China policy, has underpinned Australia-China relations for more than 30 years.
From those beginnings, and starting with trade in minerals resources from Western Australia, great things have emerged. The relationship between Australia and China is now broadly based and very productive. Our leaders and our governments are committed to taking this relationship to an even higher level.
It has become a relationship beyond trade, extending to a strategic dialogue, climate change, human rights, regional security and disarmament. It is also built on rapidly expanding people-to-people ties, with a growing number of Chinese tourists visiting Australian shores and more than 100,000 Chinese students studying in Australia.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
When young Chinese study in Australia, both of our countries benefit. China builds its knowledge and its expertise; and when a young Chinese student returns home with the benefit of education experience in Australia, Australia gains an ambassador for life. The enhanced understanding developed through these links sees both our countries prosper.
The Australia-China relationship is now stronger and more broadly based than ever before. The range of issues we need to discuss is correspondingly much wider. From bilateral, to regional, to global.
There is a range of regional institutions in which our shared aspirations for this region give us a chance to work together, where we have the opportunity to discuss our respective approaches to peace and security and prosperity in Asia. We have a strong record of cooperation in APEC and, more recently, in the East Asia Summit.
China is now a major global political and economic force, and makes its influence felt in world affairs. So Australia engages closely with China on a wide range of international issues affecting our national interests.
Significantly, the bilateral relationship is underpinned by frequent high-level visits. Prime Minister Rudd visited China last April, following on from earlier visits to Australia by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
Prime Minister Rudd returned to Beijing in August last year to attend the Olympics. The prime minister’s impressions of the host nation’s remarkable achievements were shared by the millions of Australians who watched the Games.
Both Australia and China are now committed to developing the relationship from one focused on economics to a more broad-based partnership. In pursuing that partnership, we acknowledge the reality that we have different approaches to key interests. These reflect our different history, our different political systems, as well as different interests.
For example, we don’t always see eye-to-eye on questions of human rights, but, as in any mature partnership, in the context of mutual respect and trust, these differences can be aired. Australia values very much our annual human rights dialogue in which these issues are discussed frankly between our two countries.
Today, we look to China to play a leading role in regional and global affairs, a role befitting its growing economic and political influence. China’s leadership has a fundamental and abiding interest in the security and stability of North East Asia, and a significant contribution to make in helping the region respond to challenges such as North Korea’s nuclear program, and the six-party talks process.
The world looks to China
The world looks to China to play its role as a responsible and constructive actor in regional affairs. We see the positive trend in relations between China and other regional powers as a very welcome development. One example is the recent trilateral discussion between China, Japan and the Republic of Korea.
This is of great importance to a country like Australia. Our prosperity, like that of China, is linked to the stability and growth of the Asia-Pacific region.