45th Anniversary of Australia-China Diplomatic Relations

  • Speech, check against delivery

The many distinguished guests here this evening, friends of China, friends of Australia.

I am delighted to welcome you to this event with my co-hosts Ambassador Cheng and Minister Donnellan to this event to mark the 45th Anniversary of Australia-China diplomatic relations and on the eve of the third Australia-China High-Level Dialogue.

I particularly welcome a dear friend of Australia, Ambassador Lee who will be the Head of the Chinese Delegation tomorrow and will co-chair the High-Level Dialogue with Australia's Head of Delegation, former Prime Minister John Howard.

The calibre of the distinguished gathering here this evening is a testament to the value that we place on the Australia-China relationship across a broad spectrum from Government, and I acknowledge my colleague Minister Ciobo, representatives from State Governments, and I particularly acknowledge former Premier Ted Baillieu and former Premier John Brumby.

There are many representatives from business who underpin the bilateral relationship and I particularly want to acknowledge my dear friend Mr Kerry Stokes, the Chair of Seven Group Holdings and my very dear friend, also from Western Australia coincidentally, Mr Andrew Forrest, Chair of Fortescue Metals.

There are many business representatives here and also representatives from institutions and in particular I will acknowledge Gareth Evans, the Chancellor of the Australian National University and a former Foreign Minister, and Peter Varghese, Chancellor of Queensland University and the former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Our Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Frances Adamson is here as well as our Ambassador to Beijing Jan Adams, and there are so many other people here who are dedicated and committed to this very special bilateral relationship, and I want to make particular mention of Warwick Smith who has been the Chair of the Australia-China Council for a very long time and I thank him for his wise advice and support over a number of years.

The relationship between China and Australia is a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership formalised as such in 2014. At the core of our relationship is the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement which came into force in 2015. As Minister Ciobo noted, our economic trade and investment ties are deep and growing and our two-way trade is now valued at about $155 billion.

However it would be a mistake to view the relationship through the prism of our trade relationship only, for this is truly a comprehensive partnership that covers a broad spectrum of cooperation and collaboration. We're working together in areas like law and order and transnational crime, countering terrorism, cybersecurity, innovation. Indeed we recently launched a landing pad in Shanghai where young Australian entrepreneurs can meet with innovators, venture capitalists, and others in China so that together we can embrace technological change and technological advances.

As the photographs you see here this evening have shown, we conduct joint military and defence exercises, and indeed earlier this year Attorney-General George Brandis and I, with Secretary Meng, met for the inaugural High-Level Dialogue on Security between Australia and China.

Tomorrow we will discuss ways that we can deepen and broaden our already strong relationship, how we manage our different perspectives while we work together to ensure peace and prosperity in our region.

Today with Secretary Adamson, Prime Minister Turnbull, Minister Ciobo and I launched Australia's Foreign Policy White Paper, the first White Paper in over 14 years and the most comprehensive report ever on the intersection of Australia's national interests and our international engagement.

While we cannot predict the future, Australia can be ambitious in seeking to shape the external environment and maximise our influence in our region, the Indian Ocean, the Asia Pacific – we call the Indo-Pacific. The White Paper sets out a framework detailing our interests, our values and our priorities in terms of our international engagement for the next decade and beyond.

There is no doubt we will be living in a more contested and competitive world where technological advances disrupt the way we live and work and interact, where there will be shifts in relative power between nations and where the international rules-based order will continue to come under strain as some nations seek short term gains and others promise false hope through protectionism and isolationism.

That international rules-based order, the web of treaties and alliances and institutions underpinned by international law and rules and norms and conventions, was established after the Second World War and is continuing to evolve, but it's importance lies in the fact that it has seen the greatest expansion of prosperity in human history, hundreds of millions of people being lifted out of poverty in recent decades. Australia and China with all nations must work together to strengthen and defend that international rules-based order because we all stand to benefit.

I particularly want to acknowledge that with China's growing power and influence it has taken on a global role in supporting that international rules based order and I use the example of China's principled stand in supporting and defending the United Nations Security Council in upholding its authority in relation to the egregious behaviour of North Korea.

I am delighted to see my former colleague and former Trade Minister Andrew Robb here this evening for he knows, as do all members of the Australian Government, that the importance of our relationship is underpinned by the people-to-people connections between our two countries. In fact, Prime Minister Turnbull today mentioned the importance of the over one million Australian citizens of Chinese origin that are making such a significant contribution to life in our country. China is the largest source of overseas students studying in Australia and shortly China will overtake New Zealand as the largest source of tourists to our country.

The Coalition Government's signature program, the New Colombo Plan, whereby we support young Australian undergraduates to live and study and undertake work experience in one of 38 countries in the Indo-Pacific region has been an enormous success. It was established in 2014 and by the end of 2018 over 30,000 Australian undergraduates will have lived and studied and undertaken work experience in our region under the New Colombo Plan. I'm proud to say that the most popular choice, the most popular destination for our young Australian undergraduates, is China. So the future of our relationship is in good hands as young people from China study in Australia, young Australians study in China and they will bring new perspectives, new insights, new energy to this relationship.

Finally, I am delighted to make a really lovely announcement this evening. I'm launching a collection of personal stories from people put together by our Embassy in Beijing – thank you Ambassador – of Australians about their connections with China and vice versa, personal stories. It's called 45 Years, 45 Stories and I know that some of the story tellers are here this evening.

As we launch 45 Years, 45 Stories this evening I ask you to stand for a toast.

To the people of China, the people of Australia, long may our relationship flourish and endure.

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