Australia–China relations, often known as Sino–Australian relations, refers to the relations between the Commonwealth of Australia and China. The first Chinese consulate in Australia was established in 1909, and diplomatic relations were established in 1941. Australia continued to recognise the Republic of China government after it lost the Chinese Civil War and retreated to Taiwan in 1949, but switched recognition to the People's Republic of China on 21 December 1972. The relationship between China and Australia has grown considerably over the years. Both countries are actively engaged economically, culturally and politically which spans numerous organizations such as APEC, East Asia Summit and the G20. China is Australia's largest trading partner, and has invested in Australian mining companies to help meet the needs of its growing economy.
- 1 History
- 2 Cultural Relations
- 3 Education Relations
- 4 Economic relations
- 5 Political relations
- 6 Diplomatic offices
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Qing dynasty China
Chinese people from mainly Guangdong province in southern China have migrated to Australia since the late 1700s (the earliest reports of traders in Australia date to the 1750s at the latest) and boomed in the Victorian gold rush era. By 1861, there were around 40,000 Chinese people (3.3% of the total population) living in Australia. Australia during the 18th to the early 20th century were colonies - and later dominion - of the United Kingdom and focused her attention predominantly towards Europe.
Despite the long history of Chinese immigration to Australia, the first official presence of the Qing empire in Australia was not established until 1909, when Australia was a British Dominion. While the Chinese community had agitated for a Qing consulate in Australia for many years, there was reluctance from the British Foreign Office to approve such a move. After the Federation of Australia, the Chinese community's need for an official voice in Australia increased due to the push for the White Australia Policy and anti-Chinese sentiment following the enactment of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 in Australia. At the same time, Chinese republican revolutionaries were operating in Australia, and the Qing government saw a need to dissuade the Chinese diaspora against supporting the republicans. Reflecting the political debate in China, Chinese Australians had by 1900 formed branches of the Chinese Empire Reform Association to press for reform in China.
The Qing Consulate-General in Melbourne became the main conduit for relations between Australia and China from 1909. Mei Quong Tart, who had already been Honorary Consul, had for years been favoured as the first Chinese Consul-General by the Chinese community, the European consular corps, as well as the Australian Prime Minister, but he died in 1903 before the Consulate-General had been set up. Instead, the first Consul-General was Liang Lan-hsun, an imperial official and experienced diplomat. However, the consul's attention was focused on trade relations, not discrimination against Chinese migrants.
Republic of China
On 1 January 1912, the Republic of China replaced the Qing empire. The Consulate-General immediately set about mobilising the Chinese community in support of the new government, collecting funds and sending delegates to elect overseas Chinese deputies in the new Chinese parliament. Different political factions in China found support in Australia: while the Consulate-General sponsored groups supporting Yuan Shikai's Beijing government, the opposing Chinese Nationalist League (later a branch of the Kuomintang) was formed in Sydney in 1916. A relaxation in Australia's racial exclusion laws led to broader people-to-people interactions. By 1924, 200 Chinese students were arriving in Australia to study in that year alone. An Australian trade commissioner was briefly stationed in China in 1921-22.
In the mid-1920s, conflict between China and Britain surrounding the Canton–Hong Kong strike created tensions between China and Australia (as a dominion of Britain) as well. Following the Northern Expedition in China, greater political unity within China bolstered the Chinese Consulate-General's confidence in criticising Australian laws that discriminated against the Chinese; they were supported domestically by a resolution at the ruling Kuomintang's Third National Conference in 1929. Australian rules against Chinese residents and visitors were relaxed in response, including making it easier for Chinese nationals to visit or study in Australia.
The 1930s saw an upsurge in bilateral relations. The Consulate-General was reorganised and moved to Sydney, with sub-consulates opened in other key cities. Various Chinese officials visited Australia. In 1931-2, Lin Sen, President of the National Government of China and figurehead head of state, visited Sydney and Melbourne. This was the first visit to Australia by a Chinese head of state, and Lin used the opportunity to press for greater relaxation of Australia's restrictions on Chinese migration. As a mark of respect, he was given a seat on the floor of the House of Representatives. In 1934, John Latham, the deputy leader of the government, led a Mission to the Far East which visited China.
In 1941, after Australia established greater independence in foreign affairs, Australia established diplomatic relations with the Republic of China. Frederic Eggleston, who previously headed the Commonwealth Grants Commission, was appointed the first minister to China in Chongqing, China's war-time capital, while Hsu Mo, deputy foreign minister, was appointed the first minister to Australia. In 1948, the two countries upgraded their mutual representations to ambassadors.
People's Republic of China
After the establishment of the People's Republic of China ("PRC") in 1949 and the retreat of the Republic of China ("ROC") government to Taiwan, Australia did not recognise the PRC. The United Kingdom proposed in 1949 that Britain, Australia and New Zealand should simultaneously recognise the new government. However, the Australian and New Zealand governments were concerned about electoral repercussions at a time when Communism was becoming a more topical issues, and did not do so immediately. Although Ben Chifley's Labor government preferred to be realistic about the new Chinese government and would have supported its admission to the United Nations, it lost the election. The British government went ahead with the recognition of the PRC alone in 1950, but the United States withheld recognition. The Korean War further solidified the United States' position of supporting the Republic of China regime in Taiwan instead of the PRC. Wavering between its two traditional allies, Australia chose to follow the lead of the United States, rather than Britain, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, France, Canada, and Italy (all of which switched recognition to the PRC before 1970).
However, from 1950, Australia refused to accept ambassadors from the ROC, and for many years Australia did not send an ambassador to Taiwan. From as early as 1954, the Australian government's Department of External Affairs was recommending the recognition of the PRC, but this advice was not politically accepted. During the Cold War, Australia's strategic alignment swung further towards the United States. While the Labor Party's official policy from 1955 was that Australia should follow the examples of Britain and France in recognising the PRC, on the basis that the ROC was unlikely to recover the mainland, the Liberal Party-led Coalition played up the perceived threat of a Communist China for electoral advantage, including the support of the anti-Communist Democratic Labor Party. As part of this political strategy, Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt explicitly recognised the continuing legitimacy of the ROC government in Taiwan in 1966, by sending an ambassador to Taipei for the first time.
The government of William McMahon sought to improve non-official relations with China, in areas such as trade and culture, but China was not receptive to such exchanges without diplomatic recognition.
As opposition leader, Gough Whitlam visited China in 1971 (before Henry Kissinger's historic visit on behalf of the United States), and in December 1972, after Whitlam's victory in that year's federal election, Australia established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, and Australia ceased to recognise the Republic of China government of Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan. Although Whitlam's decision was informed by warming relations between China and the West generally, especially the United States, Australian diplomatic relations with the People's Republic predated that of the United States by seven years. The establishment of relations with "Red China" roused great excitement in Australia. Stephen Fitzgerald became the first Australian ambassador to the People's Republic of China, and Wang Guoquan was the first PRC ambassador to Australia.
Since the Chinese economic reforms initiated by the late Deng Xiaoping, China has benefited from significant investment in China by Australian companies (for example, current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had set up the first Sino-foreign joint venture mining company in China in 1994), while Australia has benefited from the Chinese appetite for natural resources to modernise its economy, infrastructure and meet its growing energy demands. In 2009, it was estimated the trade and investment with China brought benefits of close to $4000 per Australian household; in 2011, this was estimated to be A$10,500 per household per year.
Australia is one of the few countries in the world during the global financial crisis that was not in recession. Its continued economic growth due to that period is partly attributed to large demand and long term strong fundamentals from China.
As China's influence raises, the Chinese government has been trying to control and monitor the ethnic Chinese living and studying in Australia, and to influence Australian politicians via political donors, which causes serious concern to Australia’s security agency, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. The Chinese foreign ministry responded that such a charge was groundless. The national security department of China accused the Australia intelligence agency of trying to collect information from overseas Chinese, and even encouraging them to subvert Chinese government.
Australia's ties to China include its relations with Hong Kong which date back to when both were under British rule. Although Hong Kong, as a special administrative area of China, cannot conduct its own foreign affairs, consular and economic representations exist. Australia maintains a consulate in Hong Kong, while Hong Kong maintains the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Australia.
While Australia no longer recognises the Republic of China as the legitimate government of China (or Taiwan), unofficial relations are maintained between Australia and Taiwan. The Taiwan government operates the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Australia, which fulfills most of the functions of an embassy and consulates at an unofficial level. The Australian counterpart in Taiwan is the Australian Office in Taipei.
Australia has been a haven for Chinese migrants for centuries who have, in the modern day, established themselves as a significant minority group in Australian society. There are now large numbers of Australian-born Chinese and Chinese-born migrants/Australian Citizens in the cities of Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane with small Chinese communities in regional centres, particularly in Victoria, and New South Wales. There are also Chinatowns in every Australian capital city, including Darwin and large, public Chinese New Year Celebrations in Melbourne and Sydney. The former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, also has strong connections with Chinese culture having studied Chinese at the Australian National University in Canberra. He also speaks fluent Mandarin.
Australians have gone to China to study since the 19th century. William Mayers studied in China from 1859, and was involved in negotiations to bring the first railway and steam engine to China. In 2011, China was overall the most popular destination for Australian students studying overseas. It was the most popular destination for Australian students undertaking short-term studies overseas, the seventh most popular destination for long-term studies, and also the seventh most popular destination for practical placements. In 2014, there were 4,700 Australians studying in Chinese universities, and in 2015 the Australian government's New Colombo Plan was expected to send 525 tertiary students to study in China.
There is also a long tradition of Chinese students going to Australia to study. The numbers were small initially: a total of only 30 students entered Australia to study between 1912 and 1920. In 1924, about 300 Chinese students entered Australia to study. They were mostly children of residents.
Australia began accepting Chinese students for tertiary education in 1986 in English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS). Several thousands Chinese were studying in Australia in 1987. In the aftermath of Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, the Australian government granted protection for about 20,000 Chinese students in Australia. Since then, Australia has become one of the biggest markets for Chinese students for tertiary education. In early 2011, there were over 126,000 Chinese students in Australia and they made up 26 percent of the total foreign students. As of September 2011, there were 150,000 Chinese students studying at Australia tertiary institutions. The Australian education export market was worth 2009/10 A$19 billion. The well-developed nature of Australia-China education relations has spawned a thriving sphere of bilateral youth engagement, with non-government organizations such as the Australia China Youth Association, Australia-China Youth Dialogue, Australia-China Young Professionals Initiative, and Engaging China Project receiving high-level government and university support to connect thousands of young Australians and Chinese to academic, cultural, and professional exchanges.
Although Chinese traders were reportedly present in Australia from the 1750s, bilateral trade was small scale until the 20th century. Australia's trade relations were heavily geared towards the British Empire, and at Federation in 1901, trade with China accounted for 0.3% of Australian merchandise trade flow. At that time, Australia mainly imported tea and rice from China, as well as certain luxuries such as silk. Chinese imports from Australia were focused on minerals (silver, gold, copper and pig lead), but also included grains.
1912 to 1972
During the early 20th century, agricultural produce began to make up a larger share of Australian exports to China, including a growing demand for Australian butter and wheat. By 1917-18, Australia was exporting 950,825 pounds of butter to China. Meanwhile, Australian demand for silk and other textiles increased during the early 20th century.
World War II disrupted trade between Australia and China. In the post-war decades, wool became an important Australian commodity imported by China. From the 1960s, however, agricultural shortages in China led to heavy imports of Australian wheat. By the early 1970s, China still accounted for only 1% of Australia's merchandise trade flow.
A few years after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and the People's Republic of China, China began market-orientated reforms, which led to a significant and increasing expansion of bilateral trade. China is Australia's biggest trading partner mainly due to China's strong demand for iron ore, coal and liquefied natural gas. Exports to China helped Australia escape the worst effects of the global economic meltdown over the past two years.
Many major Australian mining companies rely heavily on China and other growing big economies such as India for exports. These companies include Fortescue Metals Group, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Xstrata who have major Australian operations.
China exports mainly clothing, telecommunications equipment and components, computers, toys, prams and sporting equipment.
The bilateral trade between the two countries is worth A$105 billion in 2010/2011. Australia's exports to China totalled A$64.8 billion, while China's export to Australia was worth A$41.1 billion in 2010–2011 period.
There are direct flights from a number of cities in China such as Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong SAR and Guangzhou to Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Recently, China Southern Airlines have commenced scheduled commercial flights to Perth from Guangzhou in early November 2011. China Southern has its pilot training facilities in Australia for many years. They are in Jandakot and Merredin which were established in 1993.
There were initial fears of Chinese investment in the resource sector similar to the sentiments on Japanese investments in Australia in the 1980s, but that has somewhat heated up and dissipated depending on the investments which were scrutinized by the Foreign Investment Review Board and politicians. Australia is focused on investments which have a win win situations with participation of local companies participation and jobs growth.
Australia has been a vital source of the high technology needed for China to enforce its claims to vast reaches of the western Pacific, including the base technology for the design of the Houbei class missile boat.
On 8 April 2013, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the deal that the Australian dollar is set to become only the third currency after the US dollar and the Japanese Yen to trade directly with the Chinese yuan during a trip to Shanghai.
To encourage Australian entrepreneurship in Greater China, the Australian Chamber of Commerce of Greater China organises every year the Australia-China Business Awards (ACBA) which recognise companies that have worked to deliver Australian products or services to the Greater China region.
Whilst economic relations between China and Australia have increased significantly to the benefit of both nations, Australia under the previous Howard Government has appeared reluctant to pursue closer political/military ties with China and has maintained the role of George W. Bush controversially dubbed "America's Deputy" in the Asia-Pacific Region.
China is emerging as a political and economic power in the Asia Pacific region which is traditionally anchored by the United States. Australia is a Middle power country like many Asian countries which have security arrangements with the United States but growing economic ties with China. 77% of Australians see China as an economic partner with only 15% seeing it as a military threat. 39% see China posing a threat militarily to Australia in the next 20 years, down from 48% in 2014.
The election of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister of Australia was seen as favourable to Sino-Australian relations, notably in view of the fact that he was the first Australian Prime Minister who speaks fluent Mandarin, and that closer engagement with Asia was one of the "Three Pillars" of his foreign policy.
In 2004, Rudd, who at the time was Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, delivered a speech in Beijing entitled "Australia and China: A Strong and Stable Partnership for the 21st Century".
In February 2008, Australia reportedly "chastised Taiwan for its renewed push for independence" and "reiterated its support for a one-China policy". In April, however, Rudd addressed Chinese students at Peking University, and, speaking in Mandarin, referred to "significant human rights problems in Tibet". Rudd also raised the issue in talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, in a context of "simmering diplomatic tension" according to TV3.
In July 2009, following the arrest in China of Australian mining executive Stern Hu, accused of spying, Rudd intervened to "remind our Chinese friends that China [...] has significant economic interests at stake in its relationship with Australia and with its other commercial partners around the world". Later in August 2009, the PRC government protested against the Australian government after Rebiya Kadeer was granted a visa to visit Australia to attend the Melbourne International Film Festival. Along with the Rio Tinto espionage case and the failed bid for Chinalco to purchase a higher stake in the Rio Tinto Group, such events are generally considered as lowest ever points in Sino-Australian relations for the past few years. China has also effectively banned visits by senior Australian officials, in protest against the events in question.
Despite the souring of relations within 2009, on 19 August 2009, Chinese petroleum company PetroChina signed an A$50 billion deal with ExxonMobil to purchase liquefied natural gas from the Gorgon field in Western Australia, considered the largest contract ever signed between China and Australia, which ensures China a steady supply of LPG fuel for the next 20 years, and also forms as China's largest supply of relatively "clean energy".
The Gillard/Rudd government has maintained strong economic ties with China through agreements to explore clean energy and to make sure Australia remains a longstanding and reliable supplier of energy and natural resources. Australia under Prime Minister Julia Gillard/Kevin Rudd has stated will continue positive and constructive engagement with China but maintaining security ties with the United States based on shared values.
Gillard government's action to station US troops in Australia has been strongly criticised and viewed with suspicion by China as it asserted that the defense pact could undermine regional security. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Gillard declared that, "China has nothing to fear from an American military build-up near Darwin and knows that Australia and the US are long-time allies."
In April 2013, Gillard went to China and met with the new Chinese President Xi Jinping with Foreign minister Bob Carr and Trade minister Craig Emerson to secure closer ties with China and economic relations.
Defence Minister Senator David Johnston has expressed his belief that Australia does not need to "choose between the US and China." Speaking on behalf of the coalition government, he further stated "we see that there is a balance between our relationship with China and sustaining our strong alliance with the United States."
Xi Jinping addressed a joint-sitting of the Upper and Lower Houses of Australian Parliament in November 2014, lauding Australia's 'innovation and global influence'.
Australia has been among the firmest opponents of China's territorial claims to the South China Sea. In July 2016, following the ruling by an international tribunal which held that China holds "no historical rights" to the South China Sea based on the "nine-dash line" map, Australia issued a joint statement with Japan and the United States calling for China to abide by the ruling, as "final and legally binding on both parties." In response, Chinese state-run media called Australia a paper cat. Later in the year, in response to an Australian swimmer's critical comments towards Chinese swimmer Sun Yang over a past doping experience, state media labeled Australia "Britain's offshore prison... on the fringes of civilization.
In June 2017 after a Four Corners investigation into supposed Chinese attempts to influence Australian politicians and exert pressure on international students studying in Australia, Turnbull ordered a major inquiry into espionage and foreign interference laws. It also claimed that despite Australian Security Intelligence Organisation warning both parties about Chinese interference in democratic processes, significant financial contributions continued to be accepted. A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry derided the investigation as "totally pointless" and suggested that Australian media was "creating obstacles" for further co-operation. Former Defence Secretary Dennis Richardson also claimed that China was conducting espionage in Australia and that intelligence agencies may be currently involved in stopping foreign interference.
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