Address at the Australia-China Business Council

  • Speech, check against delivery

JULIE BISHOP: Ladies and gentlemen, friends of Australia, friends of China. It is a delight to be here again this year, and I congratulate the Australia-China Business Council on this annual networking day. I think it is a great initiative and long may it endure.

Just on the topic of sport, being the number one ticket holder for the West Coast Eagles who are on top of the ladder - we don't have a female team yet but I can assure you when we do, there will be a female football game in Shanghai. Absolutely!

We are in the 46th year since diplomatic relations were established with China. It is useful to reflect on the relationship, and how it has broadened and deepened over those nearly 46 years.

Today it is a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. This is one of the highest levels in diplomatic terms that a relationship between two governments can reach - a comprehensive strategic partnership.

Not many people would appreciate that there are one hundred or more different levels of cooperation between Australia and China at a government level - one hundred joint work programs and dialogues that we work on together, some of them through multilateral organisations like the UN and WTO. At a bilateral level, that is, Beijing to Canberra, there are fifty initiatives where we work jointly in a bilateral sense.

For example, we have the working group on security, on cyber, on law and order, on counterterrorism, on transnational crime, on agriculture, on climate change. We have bilateral dialogues on science and research, on tourism - there are 50 in total.

We of course, have the Foreign and Strategic Dialogue which we agreed in 2014. Each year the Foreign Minister and I meet to discuss foreign policy and our bilateral relationship. Last year it was in Canberra, this year it will be in Beijing.

We also have the 1.5 track dialogue, the Australia-China High Level Dialogue, which also was agreed in 2014 as part of our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Our Chair has been in the past Peter Costello, last year our Chair was John Howard. It is attended by not only politicians but by business people, journalists, academics, civil society, art and culture - the 1.5 track dialogue each November is a wonderful example of the depth and breadth of this most important of relationships.

It is not just at the Beijing to Canberra level. Also state governments are forging ties with the provinces throughout China. Some of them have a relationship with more than one province or provincial unit. Likewise, local governments have sister city relationships across China. I attended the Local Government Association Meeting in Canberra today and I was reminded again of the significant number of sister city relationships between Australian local government regions and cities in China.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the Australia-China Council. This is sponsored by the Australian Government and it is a Council ably and competently chaired by the Honourable Warwick Smith, and one of the Board Members Margaret Jack is in the second row here today.

I compliment and pay tribute to the Australia-China Council for the work that they do in building connections and ties with the China-Australia diaspora here through a series of grants, through funding to organisations that deepen the ties between Australia and China.

The Australia-China Council is also an advisory board to me as Minister for Foreign Affairs, and I have met with them and I meet with Warwick on a regular basis to discuss ways that at that grassroots level we can bolster the ties between the people of China and the people of Australia.

For those of you who have attended previous networking days you will know that my "baby" is the New Colombo Plan.

This was an initiative that the Australian Government introduced in coming to office in 2013. We fund undergraduates across Australia's universities to spend time living, and studying, and undertaking work experience in one of 40 countries in the Indian Ocean, Asia Pacific region.

Since 2014 to the end of 2018, the number of students who have received government funding to live, study and work overseas under the New Colombo Plan is 30,000. 30,000 Australian undergraduates since 2014 have been undertaking this extraordinary life changing experience.

The most popular destination for our undergraduates, particularly those doing the longer courses or the scholarships which are around 12 months is China, undoubtedly China. 6,304 students have been awarded New Colombo Plan funding to study in China, that includes Taiwan and Hong Kong.

I think that tells us that our relationship is in good hands because the next generation of leaders, the next generation of Australian leaders is having this opportunity to understand China, to become more China-literate, to see how business is done, to understand the culture, to learn the language.

I speak to the students who return from their New Colombo Plan experience often, and two spring to mind.

Liam Kearney is a student from UWA in my state and he won a 12-month scholarship to study at Shanghai Jiaotong Antai University. He did economics and Mandarin. He then did an internship at KPMG in Shanghai and he said it has absolutely transformed his life. He now has a completely different view on where his career should go, and he has an understanding of China that he would never have got from the textbook and he is fluent in Mandarin.

The second is Stephanie Otten, a student at ANU. Stephanie studied at Fudan University and she did an internship at NAB in Shanghai. She came back to Australia, she completed her degree and she is now working the New South Wales Government in the Department of Finance. Again, she said it opened her eyes to doing business in China. She understands that culture and context play a part. She understands the nuances of doing business in China. What an asset that is going to be for our country over many years, that we have young people building these networks, connections and understandings that will last a lifetime.

Of course, we welcome so many Chinese students in return - 185,000 is the figure I've been given - and they are so welcome here. Not only have they gained qualifications from an Australian university or higher education institution but they are part of the life on campus, they add to the diversity of the student experience here in Australia.

The people-to-people links are so strong. 1.4 million Chinese tourists came to Australia. There is a curiosity, an insatiable desire to know more about Australia and we have so many Australians visiting China in return.

I look at this relationship and say the people-to-people links are so strong and so deep, at every level of government. We have connections and ties and dialogues and working groups that will endure.

Last year the Australian Government published our Foreign Policy White Paper. It was the first review of our foreign policy on such a comprehensive scale in 14-years. When you think that 14-hours is a long time in foreign policy these days, if you look at the events of last week, 14-years is a very long time between detailed comprehensive consideration of our foreign policy. This paper set out a framework for our international engagement and our international activities and our foreign policy over the next decade and beyond, focusing on our priorities and our interests and underpinned by our values.

There are five pillars to the Foreign Policy White Paper and our relationship with China is relevant to all of them, but of relevance today the first pillar is to ensure that we work closely with partners and friends to make the Indian Ocean, Asian Pacific region safe and secure and prosperous. Part of that means working closely with partners and there is a whole section on what more we can do to work with China but it includes our other partners in the region as well.

Another pillar is to ensure that our businesses have the opportunity to compete internationally and underpinning all of that is our ambitious free trade agenda. Of course, the ChAFTA free trade agreement, the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, is a gold standard. It is one of the most comprehensive high quality agreements and we are very proud of the benefits that that agreement has brought to businesses in China and Australia.

The third element is keeping our people safe and secure, and of course, we work with partners overseas and particularly in our region to that effect.

The fourth, and this is an important one, the fourth is that we must continue to strengthen, defend and uphold the international rules based-order - that network of alliances, and treaties, and conventions, and norms, and institutions underpinned by international law that has evolved since the Second World War to ensure that we don't have a third global conflict and it determines how countries behave and towards each other. Australia plays by the rules and we urge all nations, particularly in our region where it affects our national interest, to play by the rules.

We are working closely with China on the economic order, the international economic order. If you have got a trade dispute and you can't resolve it amicably, go to the World Trade Organisation. That is where we resolve trade disputes. We are urging all our friends to resolve differences according to that international rules based-order. Sure, it must evolve. Sure, it must respond to the changing times but we need a set of rules to determine how nations should behave.

Just in terms of the international rules-based order, I should digress for a moment and say probably one of the most egregious examples of a nation defying the international rules based order is North Korea, and we've seen the extraordinary events of last week, and whether that leads to a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, whether it leads to North Korea denuclearising - that is getting rid of all of its nuclear weapons and its ballistic missiles – only time will tell, but it was a historic moment.

I want to pay tribute to the role China played in bringing North Korea to the negotiating table. Last August-September, the UN Security Council passed some of the toughest economic sanctions ever imposed on North Korea. They were backed by China, they were backed by Russia, they were backed by all permanent members of the Security Council and that kind of economic and diplomatic and political pressure on North Korea is one of the major reasons that we saw the events of last week, that have brought North Korea back to the negotiating table.

I have certainly passed on Australia's thanks to China via State Councillor Wang Yi in relation to the very important role that China played, that leadership role that China played in relation to North Korea, and I'm afraid they'll continue to have to do that for some time yet.

This brings me to the economic relationship, and I know most people start with the economic relationship.

The economic relationship is remarkable. We know that China is our largest two-way trading partner. Two-way trade is now $175 billion. That is an extraordinary amount. China is our fifth largest foreign direct investor, our fifth largest source of foreign direct investment which is now over $40 billion. So, this is a significant trading relationship in anyone's terms, and it is underpinned by the free trade agreement with China. We hope that that free trade agreement encourages others to go down the path both Australia and China are promoting, of open and free and liberalised trade and investment, transparent rules - no protectionism, that sentiment does not do anybody any good - no trade wars, nobody wins out of a trade war - but open, free, liberalised trade and investment, and all benefit, it brings up all boats.

I look back 46-years. It is a robust relationship. Do we agree with China on everything? No. Does China agree with Australia on everything? No. But it is a robust relationship where we can manage our differences.

No two countries agree on every single aspect of foreign policy. We have our own foreign policy that we promote, in our national interest. China has its foreign policy that it promotes, in its national interests. There are times when there will be differences, but it is how you manage those differences that counts, like any relationship.

You've got to put it in context and you've got to keep it in perspective. We disagree with the United States on a number of issues. We disagree on the President's stand on trade, we disagree on raising tariffs, we disagree on the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, we disagree with the US withdrawal from the Iran deal. There are a whole range of areas where we don't align with the United States but it is how you resolve those differences and the respectful manner in which you discuss them.

Sure, there are always going to be statements on both sides that aren't helpful. There is commentary that you think - really? But, at the end of the day the depth, and the connection, and the breadth of the relationship is what counts.

I can assure you that the Australian Government is committed to a strong and enduring relationship with China that is in the best interests of both our nations.

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