The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP


13 August 2004

Australia and China's Shared Interests - Security and Strategic Dimensions

A Speech to the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement Conference, Sydney


I am very pleased to be here this morning to offer some thoughts on the rich and diverse Australia-China relationship…

China in the 21 st century is playing an unprecedented role in our region, and globally…

…sharing its vitality and energy with the world.

Australia warmly welcomes a rapidly growing and internationalising China…

…as a driver of regional and global trade...

…as an important contributor to regional security and prosperity…

…and, also as a valued regional and international partner who, like Australia, appreciates the importance of a diversity of strong and productive relationships to advancing its national interests.

This morning I would like to look at China's growing international engagement in security and strategic issues of global and regional significance...

…and the ways in which this growing engagement is a welcome development for regional security.

China's International Role

We welcome China's emerging foreign policy agenda - an agenda which we see as based increasingly on pragmatism and cooperation …

…and revealing that China in the 21 st century is more readily able to respond to global challenges...

…willing to make considerable contributions to international peace and to international security.

Threats such as terrorism, WMD proliferation and weak and failing states are not threats which confine themselves to a single region, or which can be effectively resolved by one country or international grouping alone.

We all need to play a role in addressing such threats - with each country in the region taking on a level of responsibility and sharing the burden.

In Australia we know from our own experience that cooperation brings win-win solutions - building relationships and common objectives, at the same time as dealing most effectively with transnational threats.

In the current global environment, China's pragmatic and cooperative approach to these threats - and to other security and foreign policy issues - has cemented its role as a constructive actor…

…and as a valued contributor to the region's core security and stability.

In its neighbourhood, China is aware that any deterioration on the Korean peninsula would be detrimental not only to the interests of the whole region, but to its own interests.

To address this, China is playing a pivotal role in hosting the Six Party Talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons program .

Australia strongly supports China's extensive efforts to convene the talks, but also to work towards a diplomatic resolution.

We note, of course, the crucial role Ambassador Fu Ying has played in the Six Party Talks process prior to her posting to Australia. She is a great expert on this issue.

While not a party to the Six Party Talks, Australia is able to use its direct channels of communication with North Korea in support of the Talks.

I will visit North Korea next week, and while I am there I will urge the Pyongyang leadership to grasp this opportunity, following the proposals tabled at the June round of the Six Party Talks in Beijing.

Pyongyang's constructive re-engagement with the international community would of course benefit North Korea and North Koreans themselves.

But importantly, for Australia and our region, it would have a very positive effect on security and stability of northeast Asia. Any breakdown in stability of northeast Asia would have a devastating effect on Australia.

China is taking purposeful action in support of international arms control and non-proliferation regimes as well.

China has strengthened its controls on the exports of WMD-related items and further developed its enforcement procedures.

China's White Paper on non-proliferation, tabled last December, signalled a firm commitment to global non-proliferation norms.

And Australia was pleased earlier this year to welcome China as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Australia enjoys regular dialogue with China on arms control and non-proliferation issues.

We look forward to further strengthening this dialogue and exploring avenues for cooperation in regional forums to promote effective WMD arms control and non-proliferation measures.

Australia recognises that China is also participating in counter-terrorism work of importance to the region and globally…

…in the APEC context, as an active participant in that forum's counter-terrorism task-force...

…at the ministerial meeting on counter terrorism cooperation that Australia co-hosted with Indonesia earlier this year and also in subsequent working group meetings. China has been an active participant.

…and multilaterally, China has been supporting UN Security Council resolutions on counter-terrorism.

Terrorism is a menace - in our region and around the globe - which will still take some time to defeat.

The vigilance, resolve and resourcefulness from all in the Asia-Pacific will be crucial in making further progress.

And we encourage China to continue to build on its counter-terrorism activities.

China has played a crucial role in helping to advance the international response to Iraq over the past few months, ensuring that Security Council Resolution 1546 was unanimously adopted...

…and clearly signalling its support for the new Iraqi government and an active role for the international community.

Australia, given its role in Iraq, and as a good friend of China - welcomes this support.

China is also increasing its contributions to the Asia-Pacific regional security and foreign policy agenda.

This year, China proposed a security policy conference under the auspices of the ASEAN Regional Forum, to bring together senior defence and military personnel.

We welcome this initiative and sees it as a timely and useful means of broadening the scope of ARF…

…while building confidence and transparency among regional defence forces.

Building Relationships for a Secure Future

Commentators and analysts today have many and varied views on China.

But most would seem to agree that China's growing economic and political weight is the most important recent strategic development in the Asia-Pacific.

I would certainly share that view.

But China's influence and interests go well beyond the Asia Pacific - making China an emerging global power as well.

A crucial point of what I have just outlined regarding China's activism is that it is helping to build regional cooperation and regional relationships.

From Australia's point of view, building constructive relationships is a key to a secure and stable future in our region

China today is enmeshed in the global and regional supply chains…

…it is producing manufactures sold in all corners of the world…

…and its a key player in world resources and energy markets.

As such, it has every interest in building relationships and a security environment which underpin these economic links.

China is already the world's seventh largest economy, with major economic links to the United States, Australia and around the region…

…and it is still growing at a rate which will further boost its global economic status and continue to drive regional economic prosperity.

Given China's growing economic and political strength, some have suggested Australia will sooner or later have to choose between its increasing engagement with China and its continuing close relationship with the United States

I believe that concern is misplaced.

China's rise has been accompanied by a growing understanding that its continued development and future prosperity depends on maintaining a stable regional and international environment…

…and on having constructive engagement with others.

China recognises that good relations and sound economic engagement with the United States, in particular, are vital to its interests.

Australia and China both recognise the value of a strong bilateral relationship with each other.

Indeed, strong inter-dependent relationships between the various countries of the region are of benefit to all - that contributes to the overall strength and prosperity of our region, and is a positive factor in ensuring continuing peace and security.

Australia will continue to energetically to pursue its interests with all of its important regional partners, including China and the United States.

Bilateral Perspectives

It is my firm view that the Australia-China relationship has never been more important to either country - nor has it been in better shape - than it is today.

At no time previously have we witnessed such breadth and depth of the bilateral relationship…

…such a high volume of people-to-people exchanges…

…or the same level of acknowledgement on both sides of the importance of the relationship between our two countries.

Our economic linkages are at historic highs, and still growing strong.

China has now become Australia's second biggest export market, surpassing the US, and investment from China in Australia continues to expand, reaching $2.2 billion in 2003.

Australia and China continue to find innovative and meaningful ways to advance relations - based on mutual respect and a mature understanding of each other's viewpoints.

We should not - and do not - stand back from addressing issues on which Australia and China may not share the same view or which may be new to the bilateral agenda.

And still we see further room to grow and strengthen our relationship - across all areas.

I should say something about cross-Strait relations.

This is an important matter for both Australia and China.

Australia adheres to a one-China policy.

We do pursue our legitimate trade, economic and cultural interests with Taiwan, but within the context of a one-China policy.

Senior Chinese have acknowledged Australia has been clear and consistent in its Taiwan policy.

Stability in the Taiwan Strait is crucial for the future security and economic development of the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia.

We will continue to urge both sides not to engage in any unilateral moves to change the cross-Strait status quo.

In particular, I want to make it clear that Australia opposes any actions or statements that could be seen as moves by Taiwan towards independence.

This would risk upsetting regional stability, which would be in no one's interests, including the interests of the people on Taiwan.

Australia has consistently said that resolution of cross-straits differences can only be achieved by dialogue between the two sides.

We urge them both to explore actively new approaches towards dialogue aimed at reducing tension across the Taiwan Strait, with a view to achieving a lasting peaceful solution.

Ladies and gentlemen

I believe that the Australia-China relationship has prospered because we cooperate on all issues on the basis of mutual respect and equality.

I am particularly proud that in my time as foreign minister we have established a number of new forums and taken steps to deal constructively with some longstanding and complex issues in our relationship.

For example, we now have a forum to regularly discuss, in a frank and constructive way, human rights issues through an annual human rights dialogue.

We have conducted seven successful rounds of the dialogue and we look forward to the eighth round, due to be held in Australia later this year. I hope a time can quickly be found for that.

We support this dialogue with a dedicated technical cooperation program which assists in practical ways China's efforts to improve the human rights of its people.

I have already spoken at some length about security and strategic issues.

We see considerable opportunity for further cooperation with China as we continue to build and strengthen regional security...

…with China's ongoing role as a positive force in the region as crucial to our interests as it is to China's.

It is therefore fitting that we have developed annual bilateral dialogues on regional security and defence issues…

…contributing to improved understanding and building trust and confidence.

Of course, trade and investment features strongly now, and will -upon all expectations - continue to grow and prosper, given the remarkable degree of complementarity between our two economies.

The possibility of a bilateral FTA would be a further boon to the growth of our trade and investment relationship.

But - just as importantly - an FTA would be another clear sign of our preparedness to make a long-term commitment to the relationship.

It would also be another clear sign of the seriousness of our mutual regard…

…and the priority that our two governments attach to the relationship…

…by giving it more room to grow and prosper.

Cooperation and collaboration between our governments and peoples is already remarkably diverse - and growing - perhaps sometimes not making the headlines, but vital to the fabric of our bilateral relationship.

And links between people and communities in our two countries are now more vibrant than ever.

Education and tourism dominate Australia's service exports to China, accounting for over two-thirds of services exports in recent years.

Onshore Chinese student enrolments have reached over 57,000, making China our number one source of overseas enrolments - that's 16 times the number from the UK, and 3 times the number of from the rest of Western Europe.

Over 176,000 visitors from China came to Australia in 2003, while Australian visitors to China in the same period reached 114,000. I hope more Chinese visitors will come to Australia.

Australia was the first, and is now one of only a handful of western countries to be granted Approved Destination Status by China for tourism.

These facts and figures may contribute serious amounts to our annual services exports ledger with China.

But more importantly, they richly contribute to our relationship now and for the future - underpinning business, cultural and community links.

I will travel to China myself next week.

And I will be very pleased to convey in discussions with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, other Chinese leaders and the business community there, my views on the strength and vitality of the bilateral relationship…

…China's importance to a stable and prosperous future for our region…

…and Australia's commitment to working with China to achieve these aims - for the long-term benefit of both our peoples.


The Government recognises that the current strengths of the relationship make this an opportune time to look at a possible FTA with China…

…and that an FTA would lend important strategic support to our efforts to be build and strengthen the broader bilateral relationship in the future.

It has been a pleasure to share some thoughts with you this morning some thoughts on the security and stability issues of importance to our bilateral relationship.

I hope that my remarks will also assist the conference in their consideration of the significant role China plays, not just in terms of trade and economic interests, but issues that relate to the security and prosperity of our region…

…and to Australia and all Australians.

Thank you.