Speech at the official reception to mark the 50th anniversary of Australia-China diplomatic relations
Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, Sunday 13 November 2022


Her Excellency, Governor of South Australia Frances Adamson
His Execllency, Ambassador Xiao Qian


Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Penny Wong, who I thank for the generous invitation to speak on this important occasion.


Pru Bennett, Peter Cai and the team from the National Foundation for Australia China Relations, thank you for your leadership and for hosting us this evening.


Other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen…


I begin by thanking Michael for his welcome to country. I acknowledge that we meet on Gadigal land and pay my respects to all Australia’s indigenous peoples.


In doing so, I acknowledge that Australia and China are nations each with rich histories and cultures, stretching back millennia.


A 50 year anniversary is but a speck of time amidst the ancient traditions and civilisations that have shaped the lands we each occupy and influenced the peoples we are today.


Yet it is an important anniversary, which falls at a critical time in our relations.


We should look back upon the engagements of 50 years ago – and the events that followed – for guidance and even for inspiration, as we face the challenges of our times.


On 21 December 1972 the Australian Government, led by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, signed the Joint Communique to establish diplomatic relations with the Peoples Republic of China, led by Chairman Mao Zedong.


Earlier that year United States President Richard Nixon had visited China, reaching agreement to work towards a normalisation of diplomatic relations.


Each of these events had been preceded by the visits of Henry Kissinger and Gough Whitlam to Beijing a year earlier. Historic visits in their own ways, which marked the beginnings of new chapters in history … chapters in which we recognised the PRC and acknowledged its One China policy, while also continuing to build our own important relationship with Taiwan.


Our nations were to embark not only upon diplomatic relations, but were to forge closer ties in many spheres.


From the late 1950s our economies had been growing closer via the expansion of unofficial trade, so it was appropriate that diplomatic relations were followed within eight months by the first trade agreement between our governments.


Prime Minister Whitlam undertook the first head of government visit in 1973, while his successor as Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, visited within his first year in office, in June 1976.


Speaking during his visit, Prime Minister Fraser acknowledged our independent views of the world. We have, after all, very different systems of government, and differences in values and culture.


But Malcolm Fraser also spoke of the broad areas of agreement between Australia and China, including “our commitment to world peace and security based on respect for national independence … and our resolution in opposing the attempt of any great power to dominate other nations.”


Fraser rightly identified that Australia would base our foreign policy “not on a country’s ideology or its social system but on that country’s actions and the extent to which shared interests can be identified.”


Successive Australian Governments, Labor and Liberal, have stayed true to the doctrine outlined by Fraser and sought to build upon the legacy of Whitlam.


The era of reform and opening up commenced by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 complemented Australia’s period of trade and economic liberalisation.


Though in different ways, both of our nations opened to the world via reforms that strengthened our bilateral trade, our economies and our people to people links.


In 1999 President Jiang Zemin became the first Chinese head of state to visit Australia, as a guest of John Howard’s government. The Howard Government would later provide President Hu Jintao with the opportunity to make an historic address to the Parliament of Australia in October 2003.


Marking the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations, Prime Minister Howard described China’s economic growth as being of “historic proportions” and declared that it had “beneficial implications not only for the people of China but also for the region and the world.”


Indeed, China’s rapid growth has been the economic miracle of our lifetimes, raising living standards for hundreds of millions of people, not only in China but also across south east Asia.


That economic miracle has been a function of the partnership between Australia and China. Australian business and enterprise has helped China to grow; while China’s growth has strengthened Australia’s economy. It has truly been mutually beneficial.


Reflecting this complementarity, a strategic partnership between our nations was delivered by the Gillard Government in 2013. When the Abbott Government sealed the China Australia Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force in December 2015, it delivered near universal opening up between our economies.


Alongside this growth in trade and economic cooperation, so too have people to people links strengthened, with millions of citizens journeying from China to Australia and from Australia to China.


In fields from scientific cooperation to artistic exchange, through to shared efforts to counter drug smuggling or combat terrorism, we have leveraged our diplomatic ties for good.


However, like all relationships, it has not always been smooth sailing. We have had our differences and our setbacks, including recently.


Our differences remain real and, for a country like Australia, it is an important part of our values to be a consistent advocate on matters such as human rights.


Like all sovereign nations we guard our sovereignty and, quite rightly, have acted to ensure that our laws and systems can protect our sovereignty.


As a founding member of the United Nations, Australia treasures the rules based international system. Imperfect it may be, but the rules based system provides the framework to best achieve peace and prosperity.


We urge all countries to respect it and to uphold both the letter and spirit of its intentions, along with upholding their commitments to one another.


China’s growth has changed its place in the world. With greater influence comes greater responsibilities. We look to China to exercise its power and its influence with responsibility and with respect.


Should it do so, then China will find, in Australia, a continued partner and friend. A partnership and friendship that can continue to be mutually beneficial to our nations.


On behalf of the Opposition, I wish the Government well in their discussions with China. While they maintain consistency in Australia’s strategic interests and policy settings, we hope this historic 50th anniversary can be used for progress.


Mr Ambassador, the Australian Government enjoys bipartisan support in its pursuit of peace and prosperity across our region, as it does in safeguarding the interests of Australia.


As we celebrate this 50th anniversary we hope the approach taken by all will see those objectives to be as complementary as our nations can be when we work together.


Happy anniversary!