Foreign Minister Penny Wong on the significance of Premier Li’s visit to Australia

  • Op-ed

This week, the Albanese Government welcomed the Chinese Premier Li Qiang to Australia, where he visited Adelaide, Canberra and Perth.

It was the first visit to Australia by a Chinese Premier in seven years, following patient and deliberate steps by the Government to stabilise the relationship with China.

Reopening dialogue with China after years of difficulties has been important to the Albanese Government. China is the world's second largest economy and Australia's largest trading partner.

Dialogue is at the centre of our international engagement. We know China is essential for Australia's prosperity and to solving global challenges such as climate change.

Our efforts are already delivering outcomes for the Australian people. Last year, two-way trade with China reached a record $327 billion, accounting for 27 per cent of Australia's total goods and services trade.

This is more than double our two-way trade in 2015, when the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement first entered into force.

The Albanese Government has negotiated with China to see a range of Australian exports re-enter the Chinese market, to the benefit of Australian exporters and Chinese consumers.

And we have welcomed tourists and students from China returning to Australian shores.

Premier Li's announcement that China will offer 15-day visa-free travel for all Australians will be embraced by many in the Australian community, who have family, friends and business links in China.

This visit was a demonstration of what I have said many times: Australia wants to cooperate with China where we can, disagree where we must, and engage in the national interest.

To that end, Australia and China signed a range of agreements during his visit on areas of mutual interest, including trade and economic issues, food safety, education, climate change, tourism and culture.

We also pressed for the removal of the remaining impediments on lobster and red meat.

There are a range of other issues on which we continue to disagree, including human rights, foreign interference, unsafe military interactions and consular cases such as Dr Yang Jun.

A more stable relationship between Australia and China does not eliminate these differences, but it helps us to navigate them.

As Prime Minister Albanese has said, we cannot let those differences define our relationship with China, but we cannot leave them in silence either.

Premier Li had the opportunity to hear from a range of Australians during his visit, as is essential in a democratic nation that values freedom of expression.

He also experienced for himself the dynamism and diversity of Australia's multicultural society.

Since I have become Foreign Minister, I have emphasised Australia's multicultural identity as a source of national pride – and a source of Australia's power.

I talk about Australia as home to the oldest continuous culture on the planet, and is now also home to people from more than 300 ancestries.

When Australians look across the world, we see ourselves, just as the world sees itself reflected in us.

Half of the Australian population was born overseas or has a parent who was born overseas.

Over one million Australians claim Chinese heritage.

That includes me.

Some can trace their ancestry through generations of Australian history, back to the gold rush, or even earlier. They come from across the region, from Sichuan and Guangdong, from Hong Kong and Taiwan, and as my father did - from Southeast Asia.

Some are the children or grandchildren of hard-working, risk-taking migrants, who uprooted their lives to give their families a chance of a better one.

Some are recent arrivals, who are drawn to Australia because of our way of life, our prosperity and our opportunity, and our welcoming multicultural society.

Our country is much stronger for its Chinese Australian communities, and we are proud of their contribution to our peaceful and prosperous society.

During Lunar New Year celebrations earlier this year, I had memories of my childhood in Malaysia, and seeing the lion dances and firecrackers in the streets.

Seeing Australia enjoy Lunar New Year in the same way in 2024 was a stirring reminder of how far we have come.

My parents were married when the White Australia policy was still in place. The way in which we celebrate Chinese-Australian communities today, across the country, could not have been imagined then.

We also appreciate that difficulties in the bilateral relationship with China have a disproportionate effect on Chinese-Australian communities.

All Australian leaders must always work to foster inclusion, acceptance and respect for different positions – this makes us stronger.

Australian society has many other connections to China, and the long-standing friendships that have been established between our people are fundamental to the bilateral relationship.

Last month I had the privilege of watching the beloved Matildas play China's national football team, with Australian Ante Milicic coaching China's Steel Roses for the first time.

Students and tourists, cultural and sporting exchanges, these links enrich both of our nations.

There is no prescribed model for a stable relationship with China. From my perspective, Premier Li's visit was an important step in a positive direction.

The Albanese Government is working always to advance Australia's national interests.

This opinion piece was originally published in the Australian Chinese Daily, Daily Chinese Herald and other Chinese-language publications in Australia on 24 June 2024. The Chinese language version is available here: 黄英贤外长谈李强总理访澳意义

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