Australia China Relations Institute

  • Speech, E&OE

May I begin by acknowledging the Vice-Chancellor Ross Milbourne and also I want to congratulate you on your twelve years of distinguished leadership of this university. I understand that this is your last year. We worked closely together when I was Education Minister and again more recently in relation to the New Colombo Plan and I thank you for your distinguished leadership of this institution.

Ambassador Ma, thank you for being my guest on Budget night last Tuesday. We enjoyed very much showing you behind the scenes of a Budget night, Consul-General Li. Former Foreign Minister, and now Professor Bob Carr - Bob it's so reassuring to know that there's life beyond being a Foreign Minister. Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek and alumna of this university - and Tanya I agree with you, protestors aren't like they used to be. In fact when I arrived here I was delighted to see that they had dropped their banners and wanted a selfie! Perhaps I should have offered that just then.

The Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen, Senator Sam Dastyari, David Coleman, the Member for Banks, in fact, David and I met in our office yesterday to discuss specifically how this institute and its outreach and research can work to enhance the Australia-Chinese community in his electorate of Banks, so David delighted to see you here, and ladies and gentlemen.

This Institute - by its very name - is designed to focus on our bilateral relations, and that is a very exciting prospect for me as I see relationships as being at the heart of Australia's foreign policy. In fact I see my role as Foreign Minister as Australia's relationship manager, as we deepen and broaden and diversify our connections and engagement, particularly in the Indian Ocean, Asia Pacific region.

I'm delighted to see so many business people here today, particularly Mr Huang and supporters of this university, supporters of the Australia-China Institute and supporters of the relationship.

As previous speakers have noted, as China continues its spectacular economic rise it's only right that it should take its place as a regional and global power.

As Henry Kissinger reminds us, China's economy has been the largest in the world for 18 of the past 20 centuries and it is on track to regain its position as the world's largest economy within the next decade.

China's economy is now an integral part of the global value chain and the international trading system.

In 2013 it surpassed the United States to become the world's biggest trading nation in goods; around 124 countries, including Australia, count China as their largest trading partner. China is now the largest market in the world for cars and smartphones.

A prosperous China, fully engaged in the region is not only good for China, it is good for Australia and good for the world. Australia embraces China's rise. We recognise that is has lifted millions of people out of poverty and that the emergence of the Chinese middle class within one generation is probably the most remarkable economic transformation in history.

We welcome China playing a greater role in the rules-based international order that has benefited so many countries in our region – including, of course, China itself – for more than 60 years.

As China's economy grows we recognise that it will have a larger military capability and a greater say in regional and global affairs and we encourage China to remain a positive force for good. For with growing power comes responsibility and we encourage China to play a significant role as a responsible security partner and a stakeholder, both in the region, and around the world.

As a friend, we urge China to work constructively and cooperatively to resolve tensions in our region and, as the Ambassador noted, the recent outstanding example of international cooperation with our Defence Forces has occurred with the disappearance of Malaysian Flight MH370, still a baffling, tragic mystery with 154 Chinese and six Australians, as well as other nationals on board this flight.

This incident has deeply affected people around the world, but amidst the tragedy we saw the main countries of North Asia – China, Japan, Korea join with Australia, Malaysia, the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand in a search operation that can and should be seen as a model of regional and international cooperation. It showed that our armed forces, our intelligence communities, can cooperate technically and strategically, sharing information, expertise and intelligence, working side-by-side in the Indo-Pacific region.

In fact Perth, my home city, Australia's Indian Ocean capital city became the focal point for global media attention and therefore this exercise, which is ongoing, showed the enormous potential for further collaboration and pursuing shared interests in our region.

Australia has played its part in the rise of China. Our iron ore has been used to build Chinese cities. Our coal and gas has fuelled China's power plants. China is our largest trading partner.

Our countries are inextricably linked. China is our largest source of immigrants, our largest source of overseas students and our largest source of international tourists. Around a million Australians have Chinese heritage.

It has been the policy settings of successive governments and leaders, as Professor Carr pointed out, that have paved the way for the spectacular growth in our bilateral relations.And Australia and China are working more closely than ever before – that is why Prime Minister Abbott prioritised China so early in our term.

His visit last month, along with my attendance at the Boao Forum, indeed my fourth attendance at China's annual economic dialogue, and the Minister for Trade and Investment's Australia Week in China initiative, are testament to the importance both Australia and China place on our relationship.

The Prime Minister was also accompanied by five state premiers and a chief minister, as well as Chairmen and CEOs representing over half the value of Australia's stock exchange, over 600 business people representing the most high-powered delegation ever to leave Australia.

Team Australia left our counterparts in China in no doubt that Australia is "Open for Business" and that means Chinese trade and investment.

There's no substitute for personal contact at leaders-level and the Prime Minister's visit was warmly welcomed by both President Xi and Premier Li. I held my third formal bilateral meeting in the past six months with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and we've also met on a number of occasions at international meetings.

Both China and Australia are committed to an annual leaders' dialogue, which provides strategic direction for our relationship. These bilateral arrangements will enable both countries to identify new areas of engagement and manage differences more effectively.

And President Xi will visit Australia later in the year for the G20 and a broader bilateral visit program – indeed it includes an invitation for President Xi to address the Australian Parliament.

So our relationship is in good shape and I have no doubt it will continue to thrive – especially with the opportunities presented by the implementation of the further economic reforms announced at the Third Plenum late last year.

These are not only a sign of the Chinese leadership's commitment to reform, but they have the capacity to underpin China's growth in the years ahead, and, in turn, provide further opportunities for Australia.

There are opportunities that we're ready to embrace – particularly as we pursue a bilateral free trade agreement with China, which we hope to conclude by the time President Xi visits Australia in November.

Australia's future prosperity will be determined by how well we connect with the region, how effectively we engage with our neighbours, our friends, our partners. It will require Australians to forge deeper and broader relationships with our neighbours.

Australians must become more Asia-literate – more China-literate – and seek better understand the many and diverse countries of our region. That is why the UTS Australia-China relations institute, which seeks through research to increase our understanding and deepen our relationship, particularly through education, is so valuable.

As a former Education Minister I am acutely aware of the fact education, as well as our economic ties, is at the heart of Australia's ties with China.

More than a quarter of all the international students who study in Australia come from China – far more than from any other country. There are around 150 thousand enrolments from China at Australian universities and other institutions; tens of thousands of young Chinese living and studying beside young Australians, getting to know Australians and our worldview.

That's an incredible foundation for the future of our friendship and the depth of understanding between our countries. But I recognised when I was Education Minister, and I certainly know it now, it needs to be a two-way flow of students. That's why the New Colombo Plan is the signature foreign policy of the Abbott Government.

It's a policy that lays the groundwork for the future, a generation of change, a future in which Asia is the epicentre of the global economy.

Just as the original Colombo Plan, in the 1950s to the 1980s, brought tens of thousands of students from our region to Australia to further their education, the New Colombo Plan is sending Australia's best and brightest young students to the region to study at universities across the Indo-Pacific and gain practical experience with companies and organisations in the region through internships and work experience.

Already students have commenced study at our pilot locations in Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Next year, the program will expand into mainland China, and we welcome the Chinese government's support for this exciting development. It means that even more Australians will look to China as their go-to destination for overseas study. We are building on that firm foundation.

Already, China is the second most popular destination for Australian students studying abroad, and 34 of our universities have exchange agreements with a Chinese counterpart.

The New Colombo Plan will open new doors for many more young Australians. And provide opportunities for overseas study for students for whom it might otherwise not have been possible. It also aligns with China's own objective to increase its overseas student numbers to half a million by 2020. It's yet another example of how, by working together, both our nations benefit.

But, like the scholarships that will be funded by ACRI - by this institute, the New Colombo Plan is about so much more than just education. It is public diplomacy at its very best.

New Colombo Plan scholar will be ambassadors for our country – building friendship, understanding and goodwill with their contemporaries.

They will be the next generation of leaders – in government, business, the professions, the arts, the community generally – and the experiences they have and the relationships they form as New Colombo plan students will ultimately benefit Australia as a whole.

I know that Vice-Chancellor Milbourne understands this – he's been a strong supporter of, and close collaborator on the New Colombo Plan. Through this institute, more students will be aware of opportunities that the New Colombo Plan, and other scholarships, can give them to ensure they know more about China; that they understand modern, thriving, contemporary China – its goals and ambitions, as well as the centuries of history that have so enriched the world.

By living, working and studying in China they will come to understand more about Chinese culture and language. That understanding is vital to the future of our relationship and to Australia's own success in the 21st century.

It is my hope that a New Colombo Plan experience will become a rite of passage for Australia's best and brightest undergraduates from our outstanding universities. That young Australians will think first of Beijing or Shanghai or Hong Kong when they are considering an overseas study opportunity and the scholarships being offered through ACRI will complement the New Colombo Plan.

We all inherently understand the importance of education to individual success, but education is also at the heart of the success of nations. There is no doubt that education of itself – and these kinds of exchanges – will be vital to Australia's success in the dynamic global economy of the 21st century.

We can have every reason to be optimist about China's future and our relationship and the opportunities our friendship presents for both our nations.

We need only look at China's extraordinary rise over the past three decades or so to gain a perspective on the potential for the future.

China's economic transformation is a truly impressive achievement – and a testament to the power of allowing the market more space to determine economic performance.

China and Australia are partners and while our relationship is underpinned by economics, it is not defined by it.

In the years ahead, it is my hope that our relationship will become closer and deeper. That through education, the arts, sports, politics and other cultural ties the people of our two great nations will build even closer bonds of friendship. That Australia and China will be partners in peace in the region in the decades ahead.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great honour to officially declare open the Australia China Relations Institute at UTS.

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