Australian Embassy


“Beyond Imagination: Australia and China”

HE Ms Frances Adamson
Australian Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China

Speech to China-Australia Chamber of Commerce (AustCham) Breakfast

13 October 2011

AustCham Chairman David Olsson, distinguished members of the Board, Austcham General Manager Dalwyn Bateson, AustCham members, ladies and gentlemen,

a very good morning to you all on this damp, autumn day in Beijing (a slightly more formal setting than our last meeting at the ‘Great Aussie Barbeque’ just before the National Day holidays!).

It is a pleasure to be speaking to you as the 12th Australian Ambassador to China, but also as a Patron of AustCham Beijing.

I had thought I was an Honorary Patron, but on closer inspection of the certificate presented to me by David Olsson at my first meeting with your Board, I realised that I had been appointed an Honourable Patron, and for that I thank you. It is, indeed, an honour to be addressing you today.

Next year we will mark a significant milestone in the Australia-China relationship.

As both sides prepare to celebrate 40 years of comprehensive, constructive and cooperative diplomatic relations, it worth reflecting on how China's importance to Australia has grown,

and in turn, how Australia’s growth as a strong, confident and active player in the Asia-Pacific region, and indeed, on the world stage, has contributed to strengthening the bilateral relationship in ways previously unimagined.

The Australia-China relationship is a story about people. About you and people like you, and about your vision, imagination and determination – and hard work.

And the story will continue to unfold.

Looking Back: China and Australia

But let me start by looking back.

We all have a reference point; a first visit to China to think back on, or, for those who were born here, a first memory of what China used to be like. For some of us, that was in the 1970s or 1980s , and for some of you it has been more recent.

For me, it was February 1987 and I was visiting Beijing as a language trainee prior to commencing my duties as vice-consul at the Australian Consulate-General in Hong Kong. This position was created to give the Australian Government a window on China’s economic reforms and opening to the outside world, which is how it used to be described.

As I know you will all appreciate, and many of you will know first-hand, the China of those days was markedly different from the China of today.

It was a time when bicycles were everywhere, taxis few and far between and private cars virtually unheard of. A time when a handful of foreigners trying out their Chinese in Tiananmen Square attracted a bemused crowd and when there was an absence of colour in winter clothing.

It was also a time when China was starting to think about developing its ports, with a view to one day rivalling Hong Kong. And a time when provincial Governors and Party Secretaries in southern China listened intently to the advice of Australian Ambassador Ross Garnaut, while a visiting vice-consul from Hong Kong quietly took notes in a corner.

Australia’s relationship with China was at a much earlier stage of development too:

Total bilateral trade in goods and services was valued at approximately
AUD 2.5 billion, with trade in goods valued at AUD 2.3 billion and services making up just AUD 185 million.

China was Australia’s 11th largest trading partner.

In 1987, the number of mainland Chinese short-term visitor arrivals in Australia was recorded at just 10,851.

17,000 Australians visited China that year.

How times have changed.

Who would have imagined then that China’s economy would grow by a factor of twenty in the last twenty-five years, and that China would become the world’s largest manufacturer, goods exporter, and consumer of energy?

Who would have envisaged that this remarkable growth would bring such enormous benefits and present such opportunities for Australia?

Today, China is Australia’s largest trading partner, as well as our single biggest export market and import source.

In 2010, almost half a million Chinese visited Australia and more than 330,000 Australians visited China. Visa applications are increasing at 25% year-on-year.

As our largest services export market, China was worth AUD5.8 billion in 2010, with education and travel accounting for 90 per cent of services exports.

Australia is now China’s seventh-largest merchandise trading partner.

In the 12 months to June 2011, bilateral merchandise trade surpassed AUD100 billion, representing growth of 28 percent year-on-year.

And more than a quarter of Australia’s total merchandise exports now come to China.

While much of this is in the minerals and resources sector, we are working with Australian business, including members of AustCham, to capture new opportunities in China, particularly in the services sector.

Who would have anticipated that the China of yesterday, where the presence of Australians was limited to a small number of journalists, diplomats, students and intrepid business people, would now be home to a strong and diverse Australian population, which grows by the day?

Some of you did see the potential and applied creativity, problem-solving skills and energy. Others of you, Australians, Chinese and our many dual nationals have seen it since and applied yourselves in the same way.

I look forward to getting to know you and hearing your China stories and the contribution you are making to one of Australia’s most important relationships.

And in this regard I should like to acknowledge the broader contribution of AustCham to the growth of Australia-China relations.

Today: AustCham’s contribution

Next week (20 October) marks 15 years of AustCham Beijing.

AustCham has made a significant contribution to the Australia-China relationship and in supporting and nurturing the Australian business community.

AustCham has fostered strong, long-standing and loyal relationships between Australians and Chinese, and between Australia and China.

This is valuable work and these relationships are valuable assets.

And the specific work that AustCham has done, for example, promoting the strength of Australia’s financial service providers in China, and the important issue of social insurance for expatriates, will, I believe, have lasting benefits for Australians.

The AustCham working groups continue to demonstrate how industry and the Embassy can add value to our respective objectives in a focused and self-sustaining way.

And I welcome the formation of ‘AustCham Greater China’ as the new peak body representing all China-based AustChams and the 1,750 Australian companies that operate across Greater China.

I’d also like to acknowledge – and welcome - the appointment of the inaugural Chair of ‘AustCham Greater China’ - Ms Joanne Wood - who I know will augment this role with her years of experience and her professionalism.

My Embassy colleagues, several of whom (from Austrade,
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism) are here today, look forward to working with ‘AustCham Greater China’ and building on our already strong engagement. So do I.

We particularly want to work with you to identify barriers to further Australian trade and investment in China, and create strategies to overcome such obstacles.

AustCham’s financial services white paper helpfully identified a number of obstacles to further involvement by Australian financial services providers in China - for example the restriction on a foreign bank to invest in only two Chinese banks, with a 20 percent equity limit.

This work lends weight to our discussions with Chinese officials on reducing barriers encountered by Australian firms. Indeed when my predecessor, Geoff Raby, handed a Chinese copy of the white paper to China Banking Regulatory Commission Chairman Liu Mingkang in July, it received a good reception and Liu acknowledged the contribution made to date by Australian banks in China.

We look to you to keep raising with us concerns and barriers facing you as you do business in China. I will continue to raise these issues with the Chinese government - as I did with the National Development and Reform Commission in an introductory call in August - pointing out barriers faced by Australians in China’s foreign investment catalogue and the benefits of ongoing reform.


I mentioned earlier that the number of Australians living in China is growing. We estimate there are more than 15,000 of us. This means the embassy and Australian consulates-general in China have a growing, and at times a highly challenging, workload helping those Australians who require consular assistance.

I would like to repeat a message that you have no doubt heard before: Please ensure that you and your Australian employees and family members register with Smartraveller on the DFAT website or at and ensure you keep your details up to date.

This enables DFAT to contact you in an emergency or to know where you are. We hope we never need to use this information, but as demonstrated by events such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan earlier this year, Australians can be caught up natural disasters or accidents without warning.

I want to make a separate, but related point. As Australians in China, we need to respect Chinese laws and to be aware that the Chinese legal system can operate differently from our own. There are currently 28 Australians in prison in China for various offences. We do not want this number to increase.

As Australians overseas, we also need to pay heed to Australian laws with extra-territorial application. Australia is a party to the UN Convention Against Corruption, as well as the Anti-Bribery Convention. Australian companies or individuals who bribe an official in a foreign country can be prosecuted under Australian law as well as the laws of other countries.

We must all be alert to the risks and conduct ourselves appropriately.

I do not want to dwell on these matters, but I would be remiss in fulfilling my duties as Ambassador if I did not draw your attention to them.

The future

The larger and more relevant reality for all of us is that we meet at a time of unprecedented opportunity for Australia, and Australians, in Asia.

As Prime Minister Gillard announced in her address to AsiaLink and the Asia Society in Melbourne a fortnight ago, the government has commissioned a landmark White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century.

This will be a national blueprint for change, laying the foundations for an even more advanced, prosperous and innovative Australia.

China sits squarely at the centre of the emerging Asian century.

As Australians in China you are well placed to contribute views and ideas to what the Prime Minister has made clear will be a consultative White Paper process to be led by former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry.

The Australian Government is firmly of the view that the bilateral relationship will only remain healthy and prosperous long into the future if China and Australia work together in partnership for mutual benefit.

Specifically, we need to broaden our links to China and ensure greater engagement with China’s second and third tier cities.

These cities represent China’s new centre of economic growth.

At the same time, we need to ensure Australia seizes the business opportunities unlocked as China rebalances its economy, adopting a more sustainable economic development model.

This is the vision that the Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, has termed Australia – China 2.0, because it represents a new phase of mutual economic engagement. One that will recognise, anticipate and prepare for the impact of a changing China.

This is why the Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, led Australia’s largest business mission in memory to Guangzhou, Changsha, Wuhan, Chengdu, Chongqing and Shanghai in August this year to explore new commercial opportunities in China’s emerging provincial centres.

Senior-level visitors from Australia are also increasingly putting these cities on their visit itineraries, recognising that they present opportunities for Australian business interests, particularly in the services sector.

While our trade with China continues to be dominated by resources and energy, the diversification of trade and investment in areas such as clean energy, agribusiness, autos and transport will underpin the next phase of economic cooperation.

This is why we will continue to promote Australia’s interests in China’s clean tech modern services industries, and in financial services, logistics and urban planning, which are important to China’s future economic and social development.

Recognising that China is our largest source of international students (126,000 last year) accounting for 37 per cent of international students at Australian tertiary institutions, and generating an income of $4.4 billion, we need to promote meaningful growth in our education cooperation that recognises the important, long-term linkages that are sustained when overseas students study in Australia’s world-class educational institutions.

We must also encourage Australian universities to continue to form sustainable partnerships with their Chinese counterparts in the fields of research, innovation and teaching.

And we need to encourage more Australians, of all ages, to learn to speak Chinese and to put the language to use.

The influence and good relations that exist amongst our Alumni in China, aided by the ongoing work of the Australia-China Alumni Association, demonstrate the lasting benefits of encouraging linkages in this integral sector.

As many of you will be aware, the government recently announced the adoption of the recommendations of the Strategic Review of the Student Visa Program (the Knight Review), including the creation of a two to four-year post-study work visa to encourage a more complete study experience in Australia; the streamlining of visa processing requirements; and the reduction of the Assessment Level financial requirements for some students.

We need to build on the fact that China is our fastest growing source of tourists and third largest source of visitors to Australia.

And we need to recognise that, increasingly, Chinese travellers want a genuinely Australian experience not a whistle stop tour.

As the Prime Minister said when she visited China in April, Australia is committed to a high-quality, comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with China.

The FTA negotiations reflect the breadth and complexity of our bilateral economic relationship.

This is a difficult and complex process with sensitivities on both sides, including in agriculture, industrial products, services, investment and temporary entry of workers.

Owing to these difficulties, we’ve been negotiating for over six years, and I’m conscious that the process could take some more time yet.

But it is a process to which we are committed, with the next round of talks scheduled for the week of 21 November in Beijing.

The future, like the past I spoke of earlier, will be focused on people, and reward those with the vision and drive to realise the opportunities that are available to us.

Australia is now the 4th largest economy in Asia.

We are the 13th largest economy in the world.

We are well placed and ready to capitalise on the opportunities that await us in China, but we can also do better.

Next year, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and China, let us - Embassy and AustCham - leverage this opportunity to take the Australia-China relationship to new heights.

Let’s continue to think big and challenge our expectations.

It will require vision and imagination – and some more of what I have termed “beyond imagination”.