The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP


Media Release

FA188- 17 December 2002 

Diplomatic appointment: Ambassador to China

I have today announced the appointment of Dr Alan Thomas as Australian Ambassador to the People's Republic of China.

Dr Thomas is expected to take up his appointment in March 2003, replacing Mr David Irvine, who has been Ambassador since March 2000.

Bilateral ties between Australia and China have reached new heights this year, the 30th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. The relationship is based on principles of mutual respect, substantial shared interests and mature discussion of differences. A key element of this approach is our range of bilateral dialogues encompassing military to military, regional security, human rights, consular issues and foreign policy.

Australia also enjoys strong cultural, social and educational ties with China. People-to-people contacts are vital to the relationship. The Prime Minister visited China this year and I also visited Shanghai in November for the International Arts Festival's 'Celebrate Australia 2002'. China reciprocated with visits by Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan in March and by National People's Congress Chairman Li Peng in September. Over 120,000 Chinese tourists visited Australia during the year and there are currently about 25,000 Chinese students studying in Australia.

Bilateral trade and economic ties continue to expand. China is now Australia's third-largest merchandise trading partner, with annual two-way trade totalling about $20 billion. This year, an Australian consortium won a $25 billion contract to supply LNG to Guangdong Province - the beginning of a long-term strategic partnership in energy. Australia is working on a Framework Agreement with China to enhance the economic and trade relationship. Australia is an important aid donor to China, focusing on development assistance, poverty alleviation, public sector reforms and financial development.

Australia recognises China's importance in regional and international affairs. Australia and China share interests in the stability and economic dynamism of the region, and in multilateral cooperation through groups such as Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), World Trade Organisation (WTO) and ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

Dr Thomas is a senior career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and is currently Deputy Secretary. Other positions he has held include Head of Corporate Management Division (1998-00), Head of North Asia Division (1997-98) and Head of Staffing Branch (1995-97). He also served as Head of the Americas and Defence Branch in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and was a ministerial adviser in the early 1980s.

Overseas, Dr Thomas served as Ambassador to Brazil (1992-95) and had postings in Tokyo (1986-89) and Singapore (1979-83).

Educated at the University of Western Australia and the Australian National University, Dr Thomas holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with First Class Honours, and a PhD in History. He is a Board Member of the Australia China Council, the Australia Japan Foundation, the Australia Korea Foundation, the Asia Australia Institute and the Australian Institute of International Affairs. Dr Thomas is married with three children.

Media inquiries: Chris Kenny (Ministerial) +61 02 6277 7500 / Lyndall Sachs (Departmental) 02 6261 1555


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