Australia China – 40 years: An “ABC” perspective of trading with China in the ‘70s
Australian Born Chinese, Chris Wang was one of the first Australians to participate in bilateral trade missions between China and Australia after the two countries established diplomatic ties in December 1972.
Being an ABC (Australian Born Chinese) and importing goods from China was probably a different experience from most other Australian traders, especially in the ‘70s when China became accessible to the world as a trading partner.
The 1973 Canton Fair was my first time to China, and during that time the Cultural Revolution was still very much in full swing and I was known as a “Capitalist Roader” along with most other business people, but none more so than overseas Chinese. As such, we were treated as fourth-class citizens, behind Africans, Japanese and Europeans. We had ridiculous situations where our Australian managers were given first class accommodation e.g. Dong Fang Hotel, while we were accommodated in secondary hotels miles away.
In October 1976 at the Canton Fair I witnessed the downfall of the “Gang of Four”, a truly historic moment. To see a protest march of such magnitude by all the Chinese workers who worked at the fair, was an unforgettable sight, thereby closing the fair for one day.
What was more amazing was that the next day it was business as usual!
In March/April 1981 Michael Pointer (Leader), and I as Deputy of the Australia China Chamber of Commerce and Industry, led one of the first Victorian trade missions to China. This mission was possible because of the strong Victoria-Jiangsu Sister State relationship as well as the Melbourne-Tianjin Sister City relationship. In Tianjin we met with the Mayor’s representative in charge of the Melbourne relationship. What he found most perplexing and difficult to understand was why the tenure of Lord Mayor of Melbourne was only one year. We had to explain that the role was more symbolic and ceremonial than in Tianjin where it is political.
Business was conducted and agreements made in those early days, on the basis of a handshake or a simple one-page statement.
As an example, in 1984 our company went into a joint venture with a Chinese county factory belonging to Zhejiang Arts & Crafts Import & Export Corporation.
The Agreement was as follows:
1. We would supply machinery from Taiwan – $100,000
2. We would provide all technical support to establish the factory
3. We were responsible for world wide marketing
4. Factory to supply site, buildings, labour and raw materials
The Agreement was only one page with the last paragraph stating that:
“Both sides would do the best they can.”
Meaning – if the joint venture did not succeed, no claims would be made by either party. This joint venture was possible only because of Guanxi – which as we know, is “connections” and “relationships.”
I am pleased to say the factory is still operating, although we are no longer partners, the partnership concluding amicably in 2000.
In October 1989 after the Tiananmen Square incident ACCCI (pre ACBC) held a Seminar on “The Impact of Tiananmen Incident on the Future of Trade with China”. I was invited to present a paper. My paper, simply put, concluded that there would be – NO impact. And my final statement: “China will be the production centre of the World in the 21st Century.” ■
*Chris Wang was born in Adelaide, and is a fourth generation Australian born Chinese. He was educated at Melbourne Grammar School and The University of Melbourne completing his Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1965. Directly from university Chris joined the family business of David Wang and Company – Importers, Wholesalers & Retail specialists in Asian merchandise. The family company has been trading with Hong Kong, China & South-East Asia since 1949.
Currently Chris is Managing Director of CWI International – Wholesalers to major chains & specialty stores in the homewares market.
Chris has been active in assisting both Australian and Chinese companies establish themselves in Australia and China, including as a Founding Member of the Australia-China Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ACCCI) (now the Australia China Business Council) in 1978 and was the organisation’s Vice President between 1983 – 1991 and is an Honorary Life member.
In 1981, Chris was the Deputy leader of the first official ACCCI/Victorian Government trade mission to China
He has held a number of other significant roles in the Australia China relationship including as a member of the Victorian Government VCE Chinese Subject Committee and between 1984 and 1992, a member of the Victorian Government China Advisory Committee. In 2006, Chris was appointed President of the Rotary Club of Melbourne.
Chris has strong links to Melbourne’s Chinese community and currently is very active in supporting Melbourne’s Dai Loong Association (Millennium Big Dragon).