New Year Message from the Australian Ambassador in China

Australian Ambassador to China, HE Ms Frances Adamson, recaps the highlights of 2013 for the Australia-China relationship and outlines the key objectives for the year ahead – including the ambitious target by the Australian government to secure a free trade agreement with China by year’s end.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to be in touch again with Australia China Connections readers, at the start of what promises to be another important year in relations between our two countries.

China is central to Australia’s economic and strategic interests, and this is nowhere more evident than in our commercial relationship. Importantly, high levels of trade are being complemented by increased Chinese investment in Australia, across a diverse range of areas.

Demonstrating the welcome afforded to Chinese investment in Australia, the Treasurer, the Hon Joe Hockey MP, recently approved State Grid’s bid to purchase Singapore Power’s electricity, gas and water infrastructure assets in eastern Australia. This new phase – of significant infrastructure investment – adds to the 420 business investment proposals from China approved from 2005-06 to 2011-12. The cumulative value of business and real estate proposals from China during that period exceeded A$90 billion. This is a record Australia is proud to point to.

And we should not forget that Australia is a similarly important partner for China. We are a reliable supplier of the minerals and energy that power China’s ongoing development – in recent years, Australia provided around half of China’s imported iron ore, and a quarter of its imported seaborne LNG and coal.

Australia also contributes to growing Chinese living standards and food security through the supply of high-quality, competitively priced agricultural products, and backs this up with far-sighted agricultural cooperation to build strengths in these areas together.

Every year, we contribute materially to the building of Chinese human capital and talents, with well in excess of 100,000 Chinese students studying in Australia. Importantly, we also welcome many of those students to stay in Australia after study, with the offer of post-study work visas to further their Australian experience.

In the other direction, China is one of the most popular destinations for young Australians studying overseas, with around 4,000 studying in China each year.

Australian Ambassador 131206 FM meets Wang Yi Chinese Foreign Minister webReflecting the strong state of bilateral relations, 2013 saw the establishment of a “strategic partnership” between Australia and China. Importantly, this incorporates an annual leaders’ meeting mechanism between the Australian Prime Minister and the Chinese Premier. This in turn is underpinned by two dialogues between, respectively, our foreign and economic ministers. These interactions provide the opportunity for the senior leadership of each country to regularly focus on each other, developing the contact, familiarity and understanding so important to building an even stronger relationship in the years ahead.

*Pictured left: Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.  (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop conducted the first Foreign and Strategic Dialogue during her successful visit to China in early December 2013. Prior to Minister Bishop’s visit, Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane came to Beijing and Tianjin in November 2013 and affirmed Australia’s commitment to further minerals and energy trade and investment between our two countries. This complemented Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb’s two visits – in October and November 2013 – emphasising again the importance of the commercial and broader relationship with China.

Australian Ambassador 131017 Governor-General with Premier Li Keqiang webAnd, of course, another highlight of the year was the State Visit made to China by Her Excellency the Governor-General of Australia, Quentin Bryce, at the invitation of His Excellency President Xi Jinping.

*Pictured right: Her Excellency the Governor-General of Australia, Quentin Bryce, during a State Visit to China with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)

It is also notable that every State and Territory leader visited China last year.

2013 also saw Australia’s newest diplomatic mission established in Chengdu, Sichuan province. The Consulate-General in Chengdu will provide a direct link to the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou and the municipality of Chongqing – a diverse region of 190 million people, which together, showed GDP growth of around 13 percent in 2012.

The Consulate-General is already working to advance Australia’s interests in south west China, promoting trade and investment as well as people to people links. Its establishment demonstrates the importance Australia places on engaging with China’s rapidly growing inland regions. Our Consul-General in Chengdu, Ms Nancy Gordon, and I are keen to broaden and deepen our business, political and cultural relations there.

Late 2013 also was an important time for China, with the meeting of the Third Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee taking place in October. Statements released since the Third Plenum have covered many significant reform areas, including land, the hukou system, fiscal policy and measures to further improve the operation of SOEs. I was particularly encouraged to see the focus on increasing the role of the market and further opening up, which over time should assist Australian business to obtain greater access to Chinese markets, whether that is trade in goods, greater involvement in services industries or increased investment opportunities.

Beyond the diverse and increasing official links between Australia and China, it also is pleasing to see how much our bilateral relations continue to develop in the non-government sphere. Through countless private company visits, trade missions, academic exchanges and relationship building in arts, science, culture, youth, the media and beyond, these developments are very heartening and point to an ever-more-robust and resilient relationship.

And what lies ahead in 2014? After his meeting in Bali with President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that he intended to visit China in the first half of 2014. He said he intended to bring with him a delegation of State Premiers, business, academic, science and cultural leaders. We look forward to his visit, one that will be sure to demonstrate the breadth and vibrancy of the relationship.

And of course the Government has set itself the target of concluding the Australia-China FTA in 2014. Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb’s visit to Beijing in November was an important step towards this goal. After meeting with Commerce Minister Gao, Mr Robb said both sides had established a basis for concluding the FTA soon.

In 2014, China and Australia also host, respectively, APEC and the G20. Although the focus of most attention is on the year-end Leaders’ meetings, it is important to note that meetings will be held across China and Australia throughout the year, many involving Ministers and business leaders. We are keen to see that our two countries, as hosts, coordinate our efforts to ensure that we can produce the best outcomes from APEC and the G20. With the focus on commerce, trade and international finance paramount, business community support and action will be important to their success. Hosting such gatherings also means that Prime Minister Abbott can be expected to come to China again at the time of the APEC Leaders’ Meeting towards the end of the year, and President Xi to visit Australia for the G20 Summit in mid-November in Brisbane.

We will also seek to advance implementation of the New Colombo Plan, a signature initiative of the Australian Government. The Plan will see Australia supporting its undergraduate students to undertake study and internships in the Indo-Pacific region, thereby increasing mutual understanding and enhancing Australia’s links with this fast-growing region. The New Colombo Plan is currently being piloted in four regional locations and will be rolled out more widely from 2015. My Australian diplomatic colleagues in China and I look forward to further discussions on this important new initiative in 2014.

Looking ahead, I’m also pleased to see the cultural calendar taking shape for 2014. In March, the Embassy and our colleagues in Australian Consulates-General across China will be hosting our seventh annual Australian Writers Week, this year themed around “Asian-Australian Literature”.

Later in the year, we will be working with the cultural and business communities to promote Australian talent in the creative – film, fashion and design – industries. The extraordinary Warburton Indigenous art exhibition continues its multi-city tour across China, with further stops confirmed in 2014, after seven exhibitions across southern, western and northern China in the second half of 2013.

And I shouldn’t forget to mention that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will be back in China again in mid-2014, touring Shanghai, Hangzhou, Beijing, Xi’an, Shenzhen and Guangzhou – one for lovers of world-class classical music to keep an ear out for!

Finally, I’d like to wish the Australian community in China, and in Australia, the very best for 2014.

May the coming year of the horse be a fulfilling one for you, your families, and your Chinese partners, and I look forward to staying in touch through the course of the year. 

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