Launch of 'A new Australia-China Agenda: Experts on the Australia-China Relationship'

Speech at the launch of 'A new Australia-China Agenda: Experts on the Australia-China Relationship'

Parliament House

28 October 2014


This week and last, federal parliament has been resounding with tributes to the late Gough Whitlam. Many people have noted his bravery – more than four decades ago – in travelling to China to announce that a Labor Government would initiate ties with the mainland.

At the time, Whitlam’s critics said of the visit that his Chinese hosts had ‘played him like a trout’.

I thought of this recently when looking at statistics on our exports to China – now our number one destination for Australian fisheries exports.

There are many ways of summing up the importance of the Australia-China relationship. 

Next month, Chinese President Xi Jinping will address parliament.

China is our largest trading partner – and also the largest trading partner for more than 120 nations around the world.

You can get a sense of this by going into any electronics store, or popping online to a site like AliExpress.

Or you can visit the Pilbarra, as I did recently, and stand at the end of an iron ore loader, where millions of tonnes of iron ore leave our shores each day.

This volume is both important and timely, and I acknowledge editors Geremie Barmé and Ryan Manuel for their hard work.

As Geremie describes it, the book ‘is a polyphonic collection of expert ideas and suggestions’.

It ranges broadly. You will read Tom Parker on ‘football diplomacy’ – the sporting ties between Australia and China. You’ll hear from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) on strengthening bilateral strategic trust and youth exchanges.

The volume features Ian Chubb on scientific partnerships – reminding us not only of the potential, but also of the track record of collaboration in areas such as diabetes, wheat, and carbon capture and storage.

You will read Paul Farrelly on Taiwanese attitudes to Australia, Ding Dou on the massive influence of the Chinese economy on Australia, and Louise Merrington on Australia’s relations with China and India (a particularly timely contribution given that Prime Minister Modi will address the Australian Parliament the day after President Xi).

Scrutinising the inscrutable, the volume includes a chapter from You Ji on the PLA, and another from Rowan Callick on the Chinese Communist Party. There is also an ambitious contribution from David Walker on predicting the Chinese future.

The volume does not avoid hard issues. Antony Dapiran investigates the challenges for Australian investors in China, while James Laurenceson investigates the challenges for Chinese investors in Australia. Andrew Chubb discusses the South China Sea disputes, while Amy King delves into the history of the China-Japan relationship. And the chapter by John Garnaut on princelings is deft and engaging.

This book is provocative and interesting; the kind of book you’ll keep on your bedside table to dip into and re-read. In the best traditions of the Australian National University, it combines rigorous academic scholarship with an interest in real-world problems. Its launch in Parliament House – and the strong turnout for this event – reflects the value of the ANU to shaping better public policy.

My congratulations to the authors and editors, and I hope this book serves to further engage Australians to better understand our vital relationship with China.

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