Australia–China relations

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Australia–China relations
Map indicating locations of Australia and China



Australia–China relations, often known as Sino–Australian relations, refers to the relations between the Commonwealth of Australia and the People's Republic of China. The relationship between China and Australia has grown considerably over the years. Both countries are actively engaged economically, cultural and politically which spans numerous organizations such as APEC, East Asia Summit and the G20. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established on 21 December 1972. Today, China is Australia's largest trading partner. China has one of the largest foreign reserves in the world, and has invested in Australian mining companies to help meet the needs of their growing economy.


Diplomatic relations between Australia and the People's Republic of China began in December 1972, after Gough Whitlam followed President of the United States Richard Nixon's lead in ceasing to recognize the government of Chiang Kai-shek.[1][2] Since imperial times, Chinese people from mainly Guangdong province in southern China have migrated to Australia since the late 1700s and boomed in the Victorian gold rush era.[3] Australia during the 18th to the early 20th century were colonies later dominion of the United Kingdom and focused her attention towards Europe and America.

It was under the Whitlam Government that Australia began formal diplomatic ties with China in 1975 and downgraded its relationship with the Republic of China or Taiwan.

Australia's ties to China include those of Hong Kong which date back to when both were under British rule.

China and Australia were the final two bidders for the 2000 Olympics. Australia subsequently won and Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympics. Eight years later, China hosted the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Since the Chinese economic reforms initiated by the late Deng Xiaoping, Australia has benefited from the Chinese appetite for natural resources to modernise its economy, infrastructure and meet its growing energy demands.[4] In 2009, it is estimated the trade and investment with China brings benefits under $4000 per Australian household, in 2011, this is estimated to be A$10,500 per household per year.[4]

Australia is one of the few countries in the world during the Global financial crisis that was not in recession and experienced economic growth due to large demand and long term strong fundamentals from China.

Cultural Relations[edit]

Further information: Chinese Australian

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.

China has established many Confucius Institutes with Australia universities in major capital cities in Australia to foster better cultural ties.[5]

Education Relations[edit]

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.[6] In the aftermath of Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, the Australian government granted protection for many Chinese students in Australia.[6] Since then, Australia has become one of the biggest markets for Chinese students for tertiary education.[7] In early 2011, there were over 126,000 Chinese students in Australia[7] and they made up 26 percent of the total foreign students.[7][8] As of September 2011, there were 150,000 Chinese students studying at Australia tertiary institutions.[9] The Australian education export market was worth 2009/10 A$19 billion.[10] 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.[11][12][13][14][15]

Economic relations[edit]

Monthly value of Australian merchandise exports to China (A$ millions) since 1988
Monthly value of Chinese merchandise exports to Australia (A$ millions) since 1988

China is Australia's biggest trading partner mainly due to China's strong demand for iron ore, coal and liquefied natural gas.[16] Exports to China helped Australia escape the worst effects of the global economic meltdown over the past two years.[17]

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.[16]

The bilateral trade between the two countries is worth A$105 billion in 2010/2011.[16] 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.[16]

Year two-way trade
2008 $73.8 billion
2009 $85.1 billion
2010 $105.3 billion
2011 $121.1 billion[18]

There are direct flights from a number of cities in China such as Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong SAR and Guangzhou to Brisbane,[19] Melbourne and Sydney. Recently, China Southern Airlines have commenced scheduled commercial flights to Perth from Guangzhou in early November 2011.[20] China Southern has its pilot training facilities in Australia for many years. They are in Jandakot and Merredin which were established in 1993.[20]

There were initial fears of Chinese investment in the resource sector similar to the sentiments on Japanese investments in Australia in the 1980s,[21] but that has somewhat heated up and dissipated depending on the investments which were scrutinized by the Foreign Investment Review Board and politicians.[22][23][24][25] Australia is focused on investments which have a win win situations with participation of local companies participation and jobs growth.[23]

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.[26]

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.[27]

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. [28]

The China-Australia Free Trade Agreement was signed on 17 June 2015 by Australia's Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb, and the Chinese Commerce Minister, Gao Hucheng.[29]

Political relations[edit]

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.[30]

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.[31] 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.[32]

Howard Government[edit]

When, on 15 June 2007, the Prime Minister John Howard received the Dalai Lama,[33] China protested, with official critics.[34]

Rudd Government[edit]

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".[35]

In February 2008, Australia reportedly "chastised Taiwan for its renewed push for independence" and "reiterated its support for a one-China policy".[36] In April, however, Rudd addressed Chinese students at Peking University,[37] and, speaking in Mandarin, referred to "significant human rights problems in Tibet".[38][39] Rudd also raised the issue in talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, in a context of "simmering diplomatic tension" according to TV3.[40]

Prime Minister Rudd received lukewarm response from China about his Zhengyou terminology used to describe Australia's relationship with China.[41][42]

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".[43] 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.[44] 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.[45] China has also effectively banned visits by senior Australian officials, in protest against the events in question.[46]

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,[47][48] 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".[49][50][51]

Gillard/Rudd Government[edit]

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.[52] 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.[53]

Gillard government's action to station US troops in Australia has been strongly criticised and viewed with suspicion by China as it asserted hat the defense pact could undermine regional security.[54] 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."[55]

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.[56]

Abbott Government[edit]

Defence Minister Senator David Johnston has said that under the new government, Australia will move to balance ties between China and the United States, rather than choosing one or the other.[57]

On the 17th of November 2014, Australia and China finalised a deal which saw a Free Trade Agreement established between the two nations.[58]

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'.[59]

Diplomatic offices[edit]

The Chinese embassy in Canberra

The Chinese embassy is located in Canberra, ACT in Australia.[60] There are consulates in major cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth.

The Australian embassy is located in Beijing.[61] Australia also has consulates in major cities such as Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.[61]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sino – Australia Relations", Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Australia
  2. ^ Downer, Alexander (17 October 2002). "Australia and Recognition of the People's Republic of China: 1949–1972". Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 4 July 2012. 
  3. ^ Wu, C. (13 April 2006). Let us work to bolster Sino-Australian ties. China Daily, pp. 4–4. Retrieved from
  4. ^ a b Sino-australian relations. (2011). Engineering and Mining Journal, (00958948), 59–62,64. Retrieved from
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b Gao, J. (2006). Organized international asylum-seeker networks: Formation and utilization by Chinese Students1. The International Migration Review, 40(2), 294–317. Retrieved from
  7. ^ a b c Philipp Ivanov (26 July 2011). "Australia and China's higher education revolution". 
  8. ^
  9. ^ International Education Group Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (Sep 2011). International Education Group Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations "Monthly Summary of International Student Enrollment Data1 – Australia – YTD September 2011" Check |url= scheme (help) (PDF). Australian Government. 
  10. ^ DFAT (2011). [DFAT "Analysis of Australia’s Education exports"] Check |url= scheme (help) (PDF). DFAT. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b c d
  17. ^ Australia Signs Mammoth Gas Deal With China
  18. ^ dfat
  19. ^ China southern airlines launches flights to Brisbane, Australia. (18 October 2010). Asia Pulse, pp. n/a. Retrieved from
  20. ^ a b First direct flight from china to western australia lands. (9 November 2011). Asia Pulse, pp. n/a. Retrieved from
  21. ^ Natasha Bita (2 July 2011). "Land rush". The Australian. 
  22. ^ Rick Wallace (8 April 2010). "Japanese investment in Australia slips under the radar". The Australian. 
  23. ^ a b Damon Kitney (26 October 2011). "Foreign investment must be win-win: Gary Gray". The Australian. 
  24. ^ John Brumby (16 August 2011). "Chinese investment an opportunity, not a threat". The Australian. 
  25. ^ Andrew Burrell (30 September 2011). "Barnett's 'mixed signals' on Chinese investment". The Australian. 
  26. ^ Lague, David. "Insight: From a ferry, a Chinese fast-attack boat." Reuters, 31 May 2012.
  27. ^ "China and Australia in currency pact."
  28. ^
  29. ^ "China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA)". Austrade. Retrieved 13 October 2015. 
  30. ^ Anger as US pins sheriff badge on Australia
  31. ^ ABC (2011-11-14). "Northern defence". ABC Newsline. 
  32. ^ Graham, Euan (16 June 2015). "Lowy poll: On China and energy, Australia maintains its sunny disposition". the interpreter. Lowy Institute. Retrieved 16 June 2015. 
  33. ^ John Howard meets Dalai Lama to talk Tibet
  34. ^ Ambassade de Chine en France, Conférence de presse du 12 juin 2007
  35. ^ "Australia and China: A Strong and Stable Partnership for the 21st Century", Kevin Rudd, 6 July 2004
  36. ^ "China, Australia hold strategic meeting", The Age, 5 February 2008
  37. ^ "China rejects Rudd advice",, 10 April 2008
  38. ^ "Australian PM Kevin Rudd warns China over human rights abuses in Tibet", Jane Macartney, The Times, 9 April 2008
  39. ^ "Aussie Rules", The Independent, 10 April 2008
  40. ^ "Kevin Rudd raises concerns over Tibet", TV3, 10 April 2008
  41. ^ Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific editor (7 December 2010). "Rudd may come unstuck over China relations". The Australian. 
  42. ^ "Rudd rewrites the rules of engagement". 12 April 2008. 
  43. ^ "Australia warns China on spy case", BBC, 15 July 2009
  44. ^ Rowan Callick, 31 July 2009, Uighur Rebiya Kadeer gets visa despite China protest – The Australian
  45. ^ Aussie-China ties hit a low over visa to Kadeer
  46. ^ Greg Sheridan, Michael Sainsbury, 18 August 2009, Beijing bites back over Kadeer visa and iron ore prices – The Australian
  47. ^ Stephen McDonell, 19 August 2009, Record gas deal between China and Australia – AM – Australian Broadcasting Corporation
  48. ^ Babs McHugh, 19 August 2009, Massive sale from Gorgon Gas Project – Australian Broadcasting Corporation
  49. ^ David McLennan, 20 August 2009, Australia to be 'global supplier of clean energy' – The Canberra Times
  50. ^ 20 August 2009, CNPC to import 2.25m tons of LNG annually from Australia – ChinaDaily (Source: Xinhua)
  51. ^ Peter Ryan, 19 August 2009, Deal means 2.2 million tonnes exported per year – AM – Australian Broadcasting Corporation
  52. ^ Matthew Franklin in Beijing (27 April 2011). "Julia Gillard rejects need to contain China". The Australian. 
  53. ^ Matthew Franklin; Michael Sainsbury (26 April 2011). "Julia Gillard's US-China balancing act". The Australian. 
  54. ^ Ben Packham (17 November 2011). "China reproaches Australia over strengthened US defence ties". The Australian. 
  55. ^ Flitton, Daniel (November 20, 2011). "Gillard tells China not to fear US marines". SMH. 
  56. ^ John Garnaut and Mark Kenny (7 April 2013). "Gillard urges closer Asian ties to ease tensions". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  57. ^ Roggeveen, Sam (23 September 2013). "What the new defence white paper will say about China". Lowy Institute for International Policy. Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  58. ^ Robb, Andrew (17 November 2014). "Landmark China-Australia Free Trade Agreement". Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 18 November 2014. 
  59. ^ "The Chinese President has begun addressing the Australian parliament.". Special Broadcasting Service. 17 November 2014. Retrieved 18 November 2014. 
  60. ^
  61. ^ a b

Further reading[edit]

  • Fung, Edmund S.K. and Colin MacKerras. From Fear to Friendship: Australia's Policies Towards the People's Republic of China, 1966–1982 (University of Queensland Press, 1985)
  • Abbondanza, Gabriele. The Geopolitics of Australia in the New Millennium: the Asia-Pacific Context (Aracne, 2013)

External links[edit]