• Op ed
29 April 2020

China is a valued partner of Australia and a major global power. However, that doesn't mean that our governments will always agree. It certainly doesn't mean that Australia's policies are subservient to our relationship with China or with any other country. We don't merely repeat another country's policies as our own regardless of how strong our relationship with them may be. And we definitely won't change our public health or national security policies in response to any government's threats or intimations of economic coercion.

The first responsibility of the Australian Government is the safety of Australians. Our safety has been threatened by COVID-19. Across the world hundreds of thousands have died because of this virus. Hundreds of millions have lost their jobs and billions have had their lives disrupted.

In the face of such unprecedented global chaos, the minimum response the world expects and deserves is a thorough, transparent and independent investigation into its causes, and the most effective responses. All governments should want to learn lessons in order to avoid or reduce the impacts of a repeat scenario in the future.

Australia wants to work with everyone, including China, to better prepare the world against future pandemics. That is also why we want to strengthen, not walk away from, the World Health Organisation.

Australia also seeks to maintain and enhance trade ties across the world, wherever possible. One in five Australian jobs relies in some way on trade, for example in agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, education and financial services. China is our largest trading partner and has helped Australia to record 26 consecutive monthly trade surpluses, meaning we're exporting more than we've imported. South Australia's wine industry has been a major driver of this, with wine exports to China reaching $844 million last year. But Australia is not the only beneficiary of this as Australia's energy, resources and other exports have been key enablers of China's economic transformation.

Beyond China, our government has also been creating more opportunities for Australian businesses to trade with other nations. That's why we have entered into trade deals with, for example, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Canada. It is why we will continue to pursue new deals with the European Union and United Kingdom. And it is why we are implementing our India Economic Strategy.

Australia and China have different values and different systems of government. But we will forever share a place in the same dynamic region of the world. We should respect the sovereignty of one another, continue to encourage the collaboration of our peoples, facilitate open trade between each other and work together to make the world safer from pandemics like COVID-19 in the future.

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