Celebrating 40 years of diplomatic relations: Ambassador’s new year message

Six months into her post as Australian Ambassador to China, Frances Adamson caps off the highlights of 2011 and what is in store for Australia-China relations in the year ahead as the two countries celebrate 40 years of diplomatic relations.

As Australia and China begin 2012, the Year of the Dragon, we have much to celebrate, including the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and China. In the years since Australia’s first diplomatic mission opened in Beijing we have all witnessed China’s extraordinary economic growth, and the growth and deepening of the bilateral relationship as well.

2012 gives us the opportunity to reflect on this shared history, and also to look forward to the future, continuing to work actively with our Chinese colleagues and counterparts to ensure that the relationship remains strong and productive on both sides.

Certainly, in review, 2011 was a very busy year for both countries. We saw 17 successful visits to China by Australian government ministers, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan. Official Chinese visitors to Australia included Chair of the Chinese Peoples’ Political Consultative Conference, Jia Qinglin, and Justice Minister Wu Aiying. Frequent high-level visits in both directions are both a testimony to the strength of the relationship and a valuable opportunity for senior political leaders to meet and discuss high-level matters of mutual importance.

Among these visits, the Australia-China 2.0 Trade Mission was a highlight. Led by Trade Minister Dr Craig Emerson and Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Richard Marles, the delegation of over 100 businesspeople and media, was one of Australia’s largest to date, visiting five of China’s booming inland cities. Australian companies had the opportunity to see for themselves the rapid development and business growth in western and central China, and to build new links into the Chinese market.

Of course, the trade and economic relationship continues to play a key role in our engagement with China, with two-way goods and services trade in the 12 months to June 2011 reaching $113 billion. China now accounts for 26 percent of Australia’s merchandise exports.

While resources and energy trade remains the cornerstone of our economic relationship, we are seeing encouraging growth in services trade as well. A record number of Chinese tourists visited Australia last year, with arrivals up 31 percent for 2010/2011. Investment flows also saw strong annual growth, and the Australian Government continues to work with Chinese counterparts to reduce barriers to investment in both directions.

A successful bilateral relationship must be based on much more than economic ties. We can be proud that Australia-China people-to-people links are also very positive, with nearly 500,000 visitors to Australia from China last year and more than 126,000 Chinese student enrolments in Australia in 2011 alone. In November we held the inaugural Australia China Forum, which provides an opportunity for frank exchange on range of issues between leaders in our respective business, academia, media, and cultural circles.

Cultural ties are also central to the relationship, and this was emphasised during the recently-concluded Imagine Australia: Year of Australian Culture in China program, which saw unprecedented creative collaboration across all areas of the arts and culture with over 200 events in 30 Chinese cities. Australia and China saw the release of the first two official co-production films; more Australian literature is being published in China than ever before; and Australian performers and musicians continue to make their mark on Chinese stages. 2011 also saw the announcement of the BHP Billiton Chair of Australian Studies at Peking University – China’s first.

We are also seeing increased cooperation between our two countries on a range of international and regional issues of mutual concern. We have high-level engagement on strategic issues and are strengthening our military to military links. We have seen senior-level visits to Australia from the PLA and just recently I attended our first Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief joint exercise between soldiers of the Australian Defence Force and Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army in Chengdu.

While the government-to-government bilateral relationship is important, I also congratulate and commend the Australian business community for your continued efforts to grow our economic relationship with China, in both size and scope. In 2011 the Australia-China Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 15th anniversary, another important moment and a testimony to the strength of the Australian business community and the respect it has earned in China. We have also see the visionary establishment of an integrated China-wide Chamber.

The broad engagement across economic, political, cultural and international areas highlights the mutual trust, respect and understanding between Australia and China.

Australia and China have a lot to look forward to in 2012 as both sides celebrate 40 years of comprehensive, constructive and cooperative diplomatic relations. We await with anticipation a range of special anniversary events which will take place both here in China, and back home in Australia, to commemorate the history we have shared and celebrate our mutual friendship into the future.

Lastly, I hope that all members of the Australian community enjoyed a safe and restful Spring Festival period. As always, if travelling, remember to check the Smartraveller website at www.smartraveller.gov.au

Frances Adamson


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