China and Australia, whose Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is a fluent Mandarin speaker, enjoy a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship, with trade and a healthy respect for differences in culture at the center. Australian tourism officials predict that by 2013, one million Chinese tourists a year will be visiting Australia—if the global financial climate improves.

China and Australia have an abiding relationship built on mutual trust and benefit. Even before President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to Beijing in 1972, Gough Whitlam, who became Australia’s prime minister that year, had visited Beijing. Since then, Australia has been a strong supporter of China’s quest to engage more fully with the rest of the world. In more recent times, Australia was a strong supporter of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Spirit of Cooperation

Relations between China and Australia have never really been strained. In 1951, just two years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Australia China Friendship Society (ACFS) was established in Melbourne and Sydney with the aim of promoting friendship and understanding between the peoples of Australia and the PRC. The ACFS is credited with contributing to the spirit of cooperation and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations. Diplomatic relations were established between China and Australia in 1972. (The United States established diplomatic relations with China in 1979.)

Through the years a number of cities in China and Australia have established sister-city relationships, including Sydney/Guangzhou, Melbourne/Tianjin, Darwin/Haikou, and Brisbane/Shenzen. Such relationships have helped open the door to tourism.

Until the recent past, Chinese families did not take holidays to travel, even within China, so tourism is still new to many people. But as the economy grows and people enjoy more disposable income, Australia has become a popular destination for Chinese traveling abroad. Thanks to trade shows, entertainment troupes, art and cultural exchanges, and consumer goods imported from Australia—along with some Australian enterprises, like Aquaria 21, an indoor aquarium in Shanghai—the Chinese have come to know and appreciate all things Australian. Tourism officials in Australia predict an increasing flow of Chinese tourists in the coming years, with more than 1 million Chinese visitors expected by 2013, making China the largest tourism market for Australia. (All such estimates, of course, are based on reestablishing a strong global economy.)

Since the 1980s China and Australia have developed a variety of joint educational programs and cultural exchanges for students, teachers, researchers, and professionals. Education is booming, with major Australian universities gaining a foothold in China. At the same time, loosened travel restrictions are allowing Chinese scholars more opportunities for study abroad.

Joint academic and training programs conducted in China take a variety of forms. Some programs involve partnerships between private enterprises; others involve cooperation between universities, research labs, and think tanks. Some programs take place entirely in China, some partly in China and partly in Australia. Some programs are designed so that one requirement or qualification is completed in China and then further study is completed in Australia. Some programs are in English while others are partly or wholly in Mandarin.

The two countries also cooperate in a number of important joint research projects. For example: In 2006 Chinese and Australian created a joint center for water research. The center has branches at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and the University of Melbourne. A research agreement enables Chinese and Australians to work together directly and to seek joint funding from sources outside China and Australia. The research focuses on such issues as groundwater management and irrigation techniques. In 2007 the Chinese Academy of Inspection and Quarantine and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia’s national science agency, created a relationship agreement to conduct research in biosecurity and quarantine. These two organizations have had training and research agreements since the late 1970s.

Trading Partners

The spirit of cooperation between the two countries is strongest in trade and commerce. In 2005 China and Australia started negotiations on a free trade agreement that would benefit them both. Negotiations to hammer out the details continue; in the meantime, trade between the countries goes on.

Chinese imports from Australia include raw materials, manufactured goods and professional services. In the raw-material catorgory, wool from Australian sheep has long been a important to China. To help drive its economic engine, China imports vast amounts of coal, iron ore, alumina, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Australia. An agreement finalized in 2002 calls for Australia to ship 3.3 million tons of LNG to China over a twenty-five year period, which began in 2006. The contract is worth $25 billion, Australian, ($16 billion, American) and represents Australia’s largest export contract, in terms of revenue, in its history. Supplying China has boosted the economies of Australia’s resource-rich states. The demand for resources in China is also creating a boom for Australia in related sectors that provide mining equipment, mining technology, and services to mining, such as software and training in areas like occupational health and safety. China also has major investments in mining and other energy projects in Australia.

Manufacturing imports have been growing steadily as well but are still small relative to the commodity sector. Nevertheless a demand for Australian goods of all kinds—consumer and industrial—has been growing in China. Some 4,260 Australian businesses export goods to China. More than 3,000 Australian companies have bases in China to respond to this increased demand. Of particular demand from consumers are Australian products for children. Children’s natural-fiber clothing made by eeni meeni miini moh®, educational toys from Gymba-ROO®, and anything recorded or licensed by The Wiggles, a children’s musical group from Sydney, are extremely popular.

Importing services from Australia has become important to China, particularly financial services and professional services such as architecture, law, and engineering. Australian architecture firms—such as PTW, who designed the National Aquatics Center, known as the Water Cube, for the Beijing Olympics—are doing well as China invests in improving its infrastructure. Australian law firms are being called in to help China-based, Australian-owned firms conduct business in China. And as China meets the challenges of climate change, it is importing Australia assistance in environmental technology and design.

Although China exports some base metals and textile raw materials to Australia, it exports chiefly manufactured products: machinery, electronic products, audio-video equipment, chemicals and related products, footwear, headgear, umbrellas, artificial flowers, and a host of miscellaneous products, such as furniture, lamps, and toys.

China recently overtook Japan as Australia’s number one trading partner. In addition, the two countries have invested in each other as well. China has large investments in Australia’s resources and agricultural sectors, while Australia invests in C
hinese manufacturing and some agribusiness and service businesses. Australia and China undertake large joint ventures too—particularly in Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

Strong Networks

China’s favorable attitude toward Australia stems from a number of factors. The counties have gotten to know each other. There is been a long-standing link forged by migration—and more recently by trade—that connects the two countries. Chinese emigrants to Australia include business leaders, professionals, and workers. New Chinese emigrants generally have strong links to friends, family, and business and professional contacts back home.

On the cultural level, Australia has credibility in China with no historical political baggage. In recent years Australia has often supported China in international forums. Australia is strong economically and stable politically, with a highly skilled and multicultural workforce, including many ethnic Chinese. Chinese emigrants have influenced consumer tastes in Australia, which has helped to increased demand for exports and imports in both countries.

On the commercial level, Australia’s business culture suits the Chinese. The Chinese regard the Australians as open, direct, and honest. Australians doing business with China also tend to immerse themselves in Chinese culture and to learn Chinese ways. A study of Chinese workers found that an acceptance of cultural diversity by Australian managers was regarded as a key reason why Chinese workers liked working for Australian firms.

Continued Relations

It appears as though relations between China and Australia will continue to be mutually beneficial. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia is a fluent Mandarin speaker and keen scholar of Chinese history and culture. Leaders of the PRC have expressed interest in enhancing the two countries’ bilateral trade, cultural, and strategic ties. The Australian-China relationship is pivotal to both the nations and their peoples.

Further Reading

Garnaut, R. (1989). Australia and the North East Asian ascendancy. Canberra, Australia: DFAT.

Garnaut, R. (2006). The turning point in China’s economic development. Canberra, Australia: Asia Pacific Press.

Garnaut, R. (2007). China: Linking markets for growth. Canberra, Australia: Asia Pacific Press.

Harcourt, T. (2008). The airport economist. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

Harcourt, T. (2008). Going the distance: Essays on Australia and the global economy: 2004–2008. Sydney: Australian Trade Commission.

Source: Harcourt, Tim. (2009). Australia-China Relations. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 119–123. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Chinese commissioners General Wong Yung Ho and Consul-General U Tsing on an official visit to Sydney in 1887, with unidentified Chinese male in western suit (center). This was the first such visit by Chinese ambassadors to Australia.

The Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, speaking at an event at Business Club Australia during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE AUSTRALIAN TRADE COMMISSION.

Australia-China Relations (Àodàlìyà hé Zh?ngguó de wàiji?o gu?nxì ????????????)|Àodàlìyà hé Zh?ngguó de wàiji?o gu?nxì ???????????? (Australia-China Relations)

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