The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP


Speech by the Attorney-General on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs

at the launch of the Documents in Australian Foreign Policy publication
Canberra, 17 October 2002

Australia and Recognition of the People's Republic of China: 1949-1972

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Today - as we approach the 30th Anniversary in December of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and the People's Republic of China - it gives me great pleasure to commemorate the event by launching Australia and Recognition of the People's Republic of China, 1949-1972.

This volume is part of the prestigious series, Documents on Australian Foreign Policy, produced by my Department.

The series symbolises my commitment, and that of the Secretary of my Department, Dr Ashton Calvert, to the democratic practice of placing previously classified material on the public record; in this way, Australians can make up their own minds as to the nature of Australian foreign policy.

Material in this volume begins in late 1949.

As I mention in the foreword, this was a time of great tension in international relations.

The Cold War between the United States, the Soviet Union, and their respective supporters, was reaching new levels of intensity.

In China, Communist forces under Mao Zedong had defeated the Nationalist armies of Chiang Kai-shek, and, in October 1949, Mao proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of China.

It was in this environment that Australia was faced with the question of whether to recognise a new communist state that had arisen in the region.

Australia and China did not establish diplomatic relations, and the relationship changed little for 15 years―although bilateral trade burgeoned from the late 1950's.

As such, the practical dimensions of the relationship served as a reminder of the mutual interests that existed and could be further nurtured by a closer formal relationship.

Some of the elements that had ossified the official relationship began to change in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In the United States, President Nixon, who was elected in 1968, started to talk of 'normalisation', and his administration made a series of gestures to China.

China, for its part, was increasingly willing to reciprocate.

There was also a broader international movement pushing for greater involvement by China in world affairs-including a place for the People's Republic in the United Nations.

Australia's attempts to adapt to these changes make up the bulk of the documentary material in the volume.

It makes for fascinating reading.

For instance, in 1971, the Australian Government sought to establish a dialogue with China for the purpose of normalising the bilateral relationship.

The volume also documents Australia's reaction to the visits in 1971 to China by US National Security Council adviser, Henry Kissinger, and, in February 1972, by Nixon himself.

In publishing such hitherto classified material, my Department's study has broken new ground-not only in an Australian context, but also in a wider sphere; for instance, the equivalent American government publication is not due out for some time.

Mutual recognition and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and China―and Australia's de-recognition of Chiang Kai Shek's Republic of China―occurred in December 1972 after E.G. Whitlam's election as Prime Minister.

The volume shows that after the decision was taken to proceed with recognition, negotiations and formalities were completed within a matter of days.

Since the signing of a joint communiqu� on 22 December 1972, Australia-China relations have continued to grow.

To be sure, the volume serves to highlight just how much the bilateral relationship has changed in the last 50 years.

I want to highlight some of the areas in which the relationship has developed since recognition.

First, politically: in 1973, Gough Whitlam was the first Australian Prime Minister to visit China.

In the three decades since that visit, the political association between Australia and China has matured to become multifarious and robust.

The central principles underpinning the current relationship represent the distillation of 30 years of interaction between the two countries.

These central principles were outlined by Prime Minister John Howard in 1999, during President Jiang Zemin's visit to Australia―the first such visit by a Chinese Head of State.

These principles are: first, mutual respect; second, a frank recognition of the differences between us; and third, a strong resolve to build on the interests we share.

These principles were endorsed by Mr Li Peng, Chairman of China's National People's Congress, during his recent visit to Australia.

Both our Governments recognise that the only practical way to deal with the obvious differences between the two countries ― in culture, in history, in our political traditions, and on some strategic (geopolitical, security) issues―is to acknowledge them frankly and see what can be done to overcome them.

A second area in which the bilateral relationship has metamorphasised is in commerce.

In part, at least, this has been because of the emergence of China as a truly global economic player, since the reform process began over 20 years ago.

Indeed, China's entry to the World Trade Organisation, and the rights and obligation conferred upon it by WTO membership, are a new threshold in China's re-emergence on the world stage.

In 1972, the value of our two-way trade was A$113 million, and in 1973 a Trade Agreement was signed, granting mutual 'most favoured nation' status.

By 2001-02, two-way trade had reached A$19 billion.

Over the last ten years, two-way trade has been rising at an average annual rate of 13 per cent.

China is currently our 3rd largest trading partner and 4th largest export market.

Investment between the two countries is also constantly growing.

As at June 2001, Australian figures show Australia had invested $1.888 billion in China, while total Chinese investment in Australia was $3.4 billion.

The recent successful bid by the Australian-led consortium to supply LNG to China is extraordinarily significant - and a prime example of the extent to which our commercial ties have developed to encompass long-term partnerships.

Tomorrow the Prime Minister will preside over a signing ceremony for the deal here at Parliament House.

The North West Shelf venture will supply between $700 million and $1 billion of LNG to Gouangdong province for power generation, every year, for twenty five years.

The project will lead to significant infrastructure development on the Burrup peninsula, and employment for thousands of Australians, not to mention large royalties to the Australian tax system.

Most significantly, the deal represents an enormous step in developing a long term energy partnership between Australia, as a stable and reliable supplier of energy, and China as a large and growing consumer.

It is, in trade and economic terms, strategically important because it has big implications for energy security in East Asia, and because it represents a further step in the integration of regional economies - helping to underpin regional stability and prosperity, and therefore also the prosperity of Australia and China.

A third area of change is in education: in 1972, there were no Chinese students in Australia; it was not until 1975 that the first Chinese students arrived, and then only five of them.

Now, China is the biggest source of foreign students in Australia: over 25,000 Chinese are studying in Australia.

And it is a two-way flow: China is second only to the US in the number of exchange agreements signed with Australian universities.

We have over 350 co-operative agreements between Australian and Chinese tertiary institutions.

Tourism is another facet of the relationship where there has been substantial development.

The two governments have negotiated an agreement granting Australia Approved Destination Status―together with New Zealand, Australia was the first Western country to negotiate such an agreement.

As a result, the number of Chinese visiting Australia rose to over 120,000 annually in 2001-02.

We expect that by 2010 more tourists will come to Australia from China than from any other country.

Concurrently, the number of Australian tourists visiting China also reached over 120,000 in the 2001/02 financial year; before 1972 it is estimated less than 1000 Australians in total had visited China.

Finally, I wish to point to institutional and people-to-people links.

Following the establishment of diplomatic relations, an increasing number of Chinese leaders came to Australia.

The institutional underpinning of the relationship was enhanced by the foundation of the Australia China Council in 1978.

Since 1979 all Australian states have established twinning arrangements with various municipal and provincial governments in China―a total of 32 provinces and cities have established sister relationships.

In 1949, Australia and China stood divided by suspicions and objectives defined by the Cold War.

Today, we stand together in celebration of 30 years of diplomatic relations.

As a token of this event, and as perspective on the past and future, I commend to you the new volume, Australia and Recognition of the People's Republic of China, 1949-1972, and I am delighted to declare it launched.

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