The Next Twenty Five Years: Building on a Successful Partnership

Address by The Hon Tim Fischer MP, Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the National Party, Minister for Trade, to the Australia-China Forum Dinner, Beijing, 8 September 1997


Song Jian, our many Chinese friends, fellow Australians.

This afternoon I had the pleasure of opening the First Plenary session of this Australia China Forum. I said that this Forum is part of the celebration of twenty five years of diplomatic relations.

The celebration of anniversaries is a time to take stock, to look back along on the road we have travelled and reflect on what has been achieved. It seems even more appropriate now, as we stand on the brink of a new millenium.

This afternoon I highlighted the development of our two countries' trade and economic relations over that quarter of a century. That partnership has seen the volume of two way trade grow since 1972 by 2,600 per cent or nearly 26 times its value.

Last year Australia was China's ninth largest trading partner in terms of total value of two way trade. But if trade were to be calculated on a per capita basis, to take account of the size of a trading partner's population, Australia today would be China's fourth largest trading partner after Singapore, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

But whatever measure is used, this partnership between our two countries can be accounted one of the most successful trading relationships of the century, not just in Asia but anywhere. It's a partnership which has brought great benefits to both parties. A partnership in which we may justly take some satisfaction.

It is a record for which our predecessors - Chinese and Australian government leaders and business people of vision, who recognised the huge potential of the complementarities between our needs and our capacities - deserve to be congratulated

Twenty five years ago, transportation links between our two countries could best be described as complicated. Direct air flights existed from Australia into Hong Kong and then a traveller would have to make their way by train to Guangzhou and then either fly or catch a 36 hour train ride to Beijing.

As much as a 36 hour train journey is appealing to me, especially given the relative comfort of the soft sleeping compartment of China's railways, I can appreciate that the pioneers of Australia/China trade would have been less than enthused by the thought of such travel.

After the initial shock of realising the soft sleeping compartment required being in a four berth cabin sharing with strangers, many bilateral friendships were forged. Although people generally spoke no common language, they shared food and experiences, together with some loud wake-up music at 6am until you discovered the volume control hidden under the table!

Interestingly, while China was a significant trading partner for Australia, it was countries such as Ethiopia, Pakistan and France that had established direct air links with China in 1972.

Today Air China, Ansett and one of our Forum's sponsors, Qantas, operate fourteen flights per week to Beijing and Shanghai with other feeder services into Hong Kong. China Southern will commence direct flights from Guangzhou to Brisbane in the next few weeks. These far more efficient and convenient communication and transportation links are key factors that are facilitating the growth in our trade and we more than welcome them !

This evening I would like to take another perspective on the history of our relationship. I would like to invite you to cast your minds forward to the year 2022, to when the fiftieth anniversary of the 1972 communique is celebrated. Try to imagine what our successors, those whose births roughly coincided with the birth of this relationship, will see as they look back on, not two and a half, but five decades of Sino-Australian partnership.

But first, it would, I think, be instructive to cast our minds back to 1972, to recall the world we inhabited then, as China and Australia set out on the path of a new relationship. When we do that, we quickly see that to try to predict the course of human history requires a spirit of adventure.

In 1972 Nelson Mandela, who had founded the youth wing of the ANC in 1943, had been a political prisoner for nearly ten years. Eighteen years later he would emerge unbowed to become the first genuinely representative President of his country.

In 1972 U.S President Richard Nixon was seeking to extricate the U.S. from the quagmire of the war in Vietnam, but the start of peace negotiations was still two years way.

Who in 1972 would have foreseen that within twenty years the Soviet Union would disappear from the map, to be replaced by a Russia reduced to the size it had been in the 17th century, and fifteen newly independent states?

Who would have predicted that in 1997 an American and a Russian would be repairing a stricken Russian space station with parts delivered by an American spacecraft?

Who would have predicted that in 1997, showing a spirit of regional cooperation and a recognition that the Asia Pacific is a community of nations, China and Australia would combine in a collective effort by a group of countries to helpThailand to weather a crisis of confidence in its currency ?

And who could have predicted that by 1996 the municipal government of the capital of Xinjiang province would become my neighbour by purchasing a farm in New South Wales?

In 1972 the microprocessor, an invention as momentous as the plough, was one year old, and the first personal computer was still on the drawing boards.

In 1972 China was six years away from initiating the monumental transformation of this country, a transformation that has seen China emerge as the world's eleventh largest trading nation, and a transformation without which we should not be here tonight celebrating one aspect of its success.

How little of what has happened was expected, still less predicted. How breathtaking the pace of change has been, and how astounding its scope. What lessons can we draw? Only that the future will not be a continuation of the past. And that the decisions we make now can and will affect the shape of that future.

What then can we foresee with any certainty of the further evolution of the partnership our successors will inherit from us? What will be the weighty issues that the young Chinese and Australians of today face as they continue our work of managing and building Sino-Australian relations?

It seems to me we can say with confidence that, whatever else may happen, some of the positive and negative trends of our time will continue to engage their minds in 2022 .

We can be fairly confident that our two countries' importance to each other as trading partners will have grown beyond recognition. A simple calculation suggests that by as early as 2005 China will have more than doubled its importance to Australia as an export destination.

And it will by then be Australia's third largest supplier of imports, after the U.S and Japan. In other words, in terms of two way trade, China will be as important then to Australia as the U.S. is now.

We can be fairly confident that most of the youth of our countries will have studied a foreign language, and that in China the most commonly known second language will be English, while in Australia it will be either Chinese or Japanese.

Today Australian students of Mandarin can turn on a television at eight in the morning and watch Beijing news. Today we have sister states, sister cities and even sister schools. Tomorow, thanks to technology, our children who study each other's languages will be able to communicate with each other directly and easily.

As I said this afternoon, only a year ago there were four direct flights weekly between Australia and China and now there are fourteen. Chinese pilots are being trained in Australia. According to the IATA, the volume of air travellers will triple in the next three years to 800 million. Between 1990 and 1994, forty six thousand visitor's visas were issued by Australian missions in China. The total for last year alone was sixty thousand.

We hope that quite soon the Chinese government will announce that Australia and New Zealand will be designated tourist destinations for Chinese citizens.

Taken together, all this means that the opportunities Chinese and Australians will have to get to know each other's countries and cultures will flourish .

We can also be pretty sure that not all will appear rosy as our successors look back on our record. It seems unlikely that we will pass on to them a planet on which the two great challenges of demography and pollution have been resolved.

We already live in a world transformed by powerful economic and techno-scientific processes. Technology has brought many blessings, but it continues to squeeze human labour out of the production process. That is a problem both countries future leaders will have to grapple with.

The key issue in world trade now is the globalisation of production. The most ambitious attempt to deal with this process,to maximise its benefits to all countries, is the WTO, an organisation which cannot realise its great potential until China joins it. To assist in that process is one of the reasons that has brought me back again to China.

I have highlighted the spectacular success Australia and China have achieved so far as a result of the twin complementarities of each country's resources and each country's needs. In trade we have done well. It also seems fair to say that our success as trading partners has depended on the will of leaders in both countries to restructure their respective economies.

But what could we have done better and what should we strive to improve? Two weeks ago some 720 sailors of the Australian navy were warmly welcomed by the population of the port of Qing Dao. They stayed for six days and left, having contributed around US$300,000 to China's GNP.

Many of those sailors said they were dumbfounded by what they found in China. After all, hadn't this been a poor, developing country only a few years ago? Their visit did a great deal to cement the friendly relations between our countries and especially between our navies. But their reaction reminds me that twenty five years is a short time in relations between peoples, and that we still have a lot to learn about each other.

In conclusion, let me just say that the record of the management of our relationship over its first half century is one in which both countries can take some pride. The challenge we face is to build further on that very solid foundation. I should like to raise a toast to the future of SinoAustralian relations. Let's continue to work together, effectively and with imagination, to ensure that those young Chinese and Australians of today who raise the same toast in 2022 will have cause to congratulate us.


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Local Date: Tuesday, 07-Jan-2014 10:10:11 EST