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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Authors: Peter Drysdale, ANU and Zhang Xiaoqiang, CCIEE
Australia and China, though they are two vastly different nations, already have a huge and joint political, economic and social investment in the success of their bilateral relationship.
Their unique partnership stems from a deep alignment of interests that, short of highly negative policy choices, cannot easily be undone. China is big, it is highly integrated into the world economy, and it is not about to go away. Australia is a secure source of raw materials for all of East Asia including China, it has an alliance relationship with the United States and it is enmeshed with Asia.
The Australia–China relationship will undergo a huge change over the coming decade. The scale and complexity of the relationship is growing because of the increased role of services and investment, as well as its political and security dimensions.
China has for some years been Australia’s largest trading partner and one of its most important bilateral relationships. Australia’s economic growth and continued rising living standards are strongly linked to China’s economic success.
In the Chinese policy community, there is wide understanding and clear acknowledgement of the economic and political advantages of open, secure and competitive access to Australian raw materials.
As China’s economy matures and its middle class expands, China is also enjoying the added dividend of access to Australian agriculture, institutions and services — everything from infant formula to vitamins, butter to beef, education to tourism, as well as advanced science, technology and research capabilities. Australia’s open society provides Chinese investments with security in a stable and well-functioning market economy that guarantees transparent recourse to political, legal and regulatory institutions.
These new avenues of commercial exchange are a two-way street. Both Australia and China gain from growing and diversifying their economic relationship through new flows of tourists, students, investors and migrants. Despite recent slowdowns, China will remain a key driver of global growth. If China’s reform agenda succeeds, it can achieve annual GDP growth of around 6 per cent a year over the next 10 years.
The impact of China’s growth on Australia over the next 10 years will be very different from in the past. Australia will no longer only be a remote supplier of raw materials. It should be a palpable and distinctive presence in Chinese daily life, particularly for the urban middle classes.
Australia is economically enmeshed with East Asia, giving it a high stake in China’s success. It also has strong economic, cultural and strategic links to the United States, and therefore a compelling interest in a positive relationship between the United States and China.
Australia’s geopolitical and geo-economic position and its multicultural society are thus unique assets in shaping China’s links with the West.
Chinese and Australian prosperity has depended on the liberal, rules-based global economic system. Both countries have a compelling interest in the successful adaptation of the institutions of global governance to the economic and security challenges of the 21st century. A deeper partnership between China and Australia can be a powerful force for the strengthening and developing of these institutions. Australia’s longstanding commitment to global institutions, its deep engagement with Asia and its historical ties with Europe and North America are complementary to China’s status as a major economic power and its declared willingness to help reform and strengthen the regional and global frameworks of cooperation and governance.
China is shifting its growth drivers from investment, exports and heavy industry to consumption, innovation and services. China’s growth slowdown does not threaten this transformation; it is a symptom of it.
This transformation will lead to fast growth in trade between Australia and China in real terms, much of it in services. Even in a pessimistic scenario, in which average Chinese growth is below 5 per cent over the next 10 years, estimates suggest that Australian exports to China would still grow by 28 per cent and Chinese exports to Australia by 20 per cent. The biggest gains, however, would be realised if Australia and China work to implement supply-side reforms. If this reform agenda is executed successfully, Australian exports to China will grow by 120 per cent in real terms, and Chinese exports to Australia by 44 per cent.
The structural changes in the Chinese economy presage a change in the structure of trade. The profound complementarity stemming from Australia’s energy and resource abundance and China’s industrialisation will remain a key pillar of the relationship, but will be increasingly augmented by services such as education and tourism, with inbound tourism from China set to treble by 2025.
There is every reason to believe that the Australia–China relationship will become more, not less, important to both countries as the Chinese economy continues to change and upgrade.
The need for an upgraded policy framework is broadly accepted in both countries.
That will be a complex task: it will require building a new set of national capabilities in both countries.
In the 1980s, Australia and China established what they called a ‘model relationship’ between two economies with different political and social systems and at different stages of development. Now both countries need to commit to a partnership for change.
Today we shall present a major independent report on how a partnership for change might be fashioned by the governments and people of our two countries. It draws on the expertise, wisdom and common sentiments across governments, business leaderships, research communities and public leaders. It is an unprecedented endeavour at working together in thinking about the choices we make for the future.
The Australia–China relationship represents an impressive achievement but with wisdom it can be taken to a wholly new level. While fully respectful of each other’s existing relationships, the new partnership can be a powerful force for the stability and prosperity of the region, and for the global system. It can serve as a principal vector of Australian and Chinese engagement within a rapidly changing world. Nurtured carefully and imaginatively, this deeper partnership could become one of the most strategically vital and productive bilateral relationships that either country has in the world.
Peter Drysdale is Head of the East Asia Bureau of Economic Research in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University. Zhang Xiaoqiang is Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges and former Vice Chairman of China’s National Development Reform Commission. They are lead authors of a major Australia-China Joint Economic Report: Partnership for Change that was presented to the Prime Minister of Australia and the Premier of China and released publicly this morning.