Australian Embassy


H.E. Ms Frances Adamson
Australian Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China


Speech to launch the Biennial
2012 Australian Studies Conference


Xihua University
Chengdu, Sichuan Province


Friday 6 July 2012


Xihua University President Sun Weiguo; Australian Studies Network President Han Feng; Australia-China Council Chairman Warwick Smith; distinguished academics, guests and students, ladies and gentlemen. Good morning.

I am delighted to be here today to launch the 2012 Australian Studies Conference at Xihua University. This is indeed a historic occasion – the first time the conference has been hosted in Western China – and I extend special thanks to all the staff and students of Xihua University for making this possible.

This anniversary year – marking 40 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations on the 21st of December 1972 through a communiqué signed in Paris – is a time to reflect on and celebrate the achievements of the last four decades. The Anniversary provides a great opportunity for us all to be advocates for the relationship and to invest in it for the future.

I am particularly pleased to be here in Chengdu, where, as many of you know, the Australian Government has announced its intention to open a Consulate-General. This will be Australia’s fourth diplomatic post in mainland China, and is a symbol of the importance we place on the relationship with China, and on developing our links with the western regions of China in particular.

This year’s conference theme is Globalisation and Imagination. I could not think of a more apt topic for discussion at a gathering of some of Australia and China’s finest academics.

Now more than ever, as technology, trade, travel and investment bring us all into a more globalised world, we need constantly to revisualise – or indeed to imagine and sometimes re-imagine – our futures – personal and professional, individual and collective.

Today, I wish to build on this theme and imagine a bright future for the Australia-China relationship, which is underpinned by the close people-to-people links we are celebrating at this conference today.

The bilateral relationship: numbers

There is an overarching story to tell about our links. To begin, as most of you know well, Australia is a migrant country.

But many people are not aware that one in four of Australia’s population is born overseas. In some of our larger cities, such as Sydney, that figure is one in three.

And where do those migrants come from? Increasingly, they come from China - in 2011, China overtook the United Kingdom to become the largest source of migrants to Australia. And India is the third largest source of migrants.

Overall, Australia is home to people from more than 200 countries. We are proud of our diversity.

In the past fortnight, the results of the five-yearly Australian Census have been released. Reflecting the migration figures, there are now 860 000 Australians of Chinese heritage. The figures also show that, besides English, Mandarin is the most spoken language in Australia, and Cantonese is the fourth most spoken language.

Unsurprisingly, tourism is also becoming a more prominent feature of the Australia-China story. From fewer than 500 Chinese tourists to Australia in 1972, the number has grown to more than half a million last year.

And the story is good on the other side too - more and more Australians are visiting China. In 2011, Australians made almost 370 000 trips to China, up 10 per cent on the previous year. China is now Australia’s sixth most popular tourist destination.

Even more striking, perhaps, is the rise in student enrolments – negligible in 1972, 9000 in 1998 and a staggering 168,000 in 2011. As Chinese students are very diligent, with many enrolling in more than one course, this equates to around 90,000 Chinese students studying in Australia in 2011.

The increasing economic integration between our two counties is well known; China is Australia's largest trading partner, and our largest destination for goods and services exports - indeed one-quarter of all Australian goods exports are to China - while we are China's eighth largest trading partner, and one of the largest destinations for China’s overseas direct investment.

Indeed, the investment relationship is very much in keeping with the theme of this conference - investment flows and the forms of investment between Australia and China are becoming increasingly globalised.

Not only has China achieved good investment outcomes in Australia, and Australia benefitted from China’s capital input, but companies from our two countries are now joining together to undertake investment projects in third countries. The future scope of such projects will, I expect, stretch well beyond our current imaginings.

Moreover, we all understand the benefit of education exchanges and research collaboration between our countries, which stretches back decades.

Australian Studies in China

As many of you know firsthand – because you are part of it – the Australian Studies Centre network in China started with exchanges of distinguished Chinese academics to Australia in the late 1970s, with the aim of learning more about Australia’s culture, literature and society. That the network has since grown to encompass close to thirty centres across China is indeed a striking achievement and a tribute to you all.

I am proud to say that over half of the world’s Australian Studies Centres are located here in China.

Just last month I was in Xiamen and visited the Australian Studies Centre at Xiamen University to speak with students and academics there. Such visits are truly one of the most inspiring and enjoyable aspects of my work, and I have undertaken to visit as many Australian Studies Centres across China as possible during my term as Ambassador.

Many people work hard behind the scenes to ensure the success of the program, none perhaps more so than Professor David Carter at the University of Queensland, whom I thank with deep gratitude.

I also offer my sincere thanks to Professor Xiang Xiaohong here at Xihua University, who, with fellow co-chairs and her team, has worked tirelessly for many months to put this conference together.

Australia-China Council Chairman Warwick Smith will, I’m sure, shortly outline for you some of the exciting new developments for Australian Studies in China, including the Foundation for Australian Studies in China, and the new Chair of Australian Studies, to be hosted by Peking University.

But all of this activity has very tangible results for both our countries. Indeed, the Australia-China science and research relationship is blossoming. China is now Australia’s third largest partner on international joint science publications. And Australia is China’s sixth largest partner in the same field – showing the real depth and strength of our researcher collaborations.

With such exciting developments, it is an ideal time for us to imagine the future – and what do we want to see? What is our vision for the future of the network?

Of course, both Governments have a responsibility to look forward and to continue to unlock the potential in our relationship.

It was with this in mind that Prime Minister Gillard, last year, initiated a “White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century” and asked former Secretary of the Australian Treasury, Dr Ken Henry, to come to China – and a number of other countries in the region – to talk about how we could work together to ensure the benefits we have enjoyed so far continue to flourish, and how we can make the most of new opportunities. In China, Dr Henry saw great potential in supporting deeper engagement and understanding between our young people, in particular through scholarly exchange.

So we can see, from the government level right down to young students just embarking on their studies, that Australian Studies Centres and research have an important role to play.

Today, also, there exists an unprecedented opportunity to harness new technologies to enhance the outreach and impact of the Australian Studies network - and to actively draw on the technological skills and knowledge of our young people, who will in turn become the next generation of scholars and teachers.

The academic study in China of Australian culture, history, literature and economics and trade, forms an extremely valuable part of the close bilateral relationship our two nations enjoy.

I am struck by the creativity and scholarship evident in the Conference program and abstracts. I look forward to the opportunity to hear your presentations and ideas, and I speak also for my colleagues, Education and Research Minister-Counsellor, Cathryn Hlavka, and Cultural Counsellor Michael Growder, when I say that we all value your perspectives and want to seek your views.

Through your conference sessions and activities over this coming weekend, I urge you, as I’m sure you will, to imagine and to reflect on how we can continue to nurture this vibrant, relevant and dynamic Australian Studies Network into the future.

Thank you.