Topics: Tourism Australia and AFL partnership; China International Import Expo; Huawei
Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much for coming along. Sunday, June 2, next year, Port Power versus St Kilda. It will be a cracking game that builds now into the third year of AFL footy being played here in Shanghai, in China. This is important, because it continues to deepen the relationship and connectedness between our two countries. We already have an amazing economic connection. Our largest trading partner is China, and we indeed are a very significant trading partner, around the sixth largest trading partner, for China. We of course also have a huge visitation, tourism, educational exchange. We’ve got now over the last 12 months, more than 1.4 million Chinese visitors coming to Australia, which was growth of ten percent. That’s an incredible growth, and it’s something we want to continue to foster. And we can do that by highlighting all of the different aspects that Australia has to offer. We, of course, have great natural beauty, wonderful food and wine, amazing culture, but also incredible sporting events. And Aussie Rules in the end highlights many of the attributes that Australia has to offer − outdoors, active-type of nature and environment that really does encourage people to come along, get involved, enjoy something that’s different, in terms of Aussie Rules, but also take it up in terms of the associated activities of getting out and enjoying Australia’s great outdoors, we hope. So this is a great partnership between Tourism Australia and the AFL, working with Port Adelaide and St Kilda football clubs, to be able to bring this together, along with Chinese partners, who are so important to it. We want to make sure this continues to go from strength to strength. I welcome the three year commitment that has been given by the partner organisations to ensure this now has the ability to grow over the longer term, to attract more partners, to attract more associated events around it, all of which can only help to strengthen the Australia-China relationship and all of its different aspects.
Journalist: Minister, as Trade Minister here for the first time, the import expo. What do you hope that Australia gets out of this expo over the next week?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the China International Import Expo is an incredible opportunity to highlight the strength and success of the Chinese economy over the forty years since it began to open up to the rest of the world. And so firstly, we congratulate and celebrate China on their economic success, which has lifted millions of people, estimated [to be] more than 800 million people, out of poverty, which has ensured that countries across the region have seen stronger growth and more people in other nations lifted out of poverty − and which of course has grown to become the most significant trading relationship that Australia has. But this is also an opportunity, as China has clearly badged it, an import expo, an opportunity for Australia to ensure that we sell our best food and wine produce, our best health services, educational services and products, all back into the China market. We’re thrilled that there are so many Australian companies, around 130 companies, 200 plus Australian brands, who are going to be here, in Shanghai, selling their wares, to the many thousands of Chinese buyers who will be visiting the import expo.
Journalist: The Victorian Government has signed up to the Belt and Road agreement. What about the Federal Government? Would you look at doing that, and what’s the impact of perhaps a state signing up and the Federal Government not?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we welcome the fact that Victoria has shown their enthusiasm and initiative. The Australian Government welcomes the fact that through the Belt and Road Initiative, China invests more across our region. We urge and encourage that investment to be in ways that are sustainable and productive for the countries in which the investment occurs. It needs to always respect the sovereignty of those countries, and be for the long term interest of those countries. But indeed as a nation, Australia, has long had an active investment profile across our region in supporting developing countries, we welcome other partners to that table. We have done so. We already have an existing MOU with China that covers infrastructure cooperation, and of course we will continue to work, project by project, where that works to the benefit, not just of Australia and China, but particularly of third country recipients.
Journalist: But would we sign up to the Belt and Road, say as New Zealand has?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we already have an MOU that involves infrastructure cooperation with China, and we’ll work, project by project, where it works to China’s interest, our interests and importantly, recipient countries.
Journalist: Tomorrow morning President Xi will give a speech presumably on trade. Amid this trade dispute with Donald Trump, is it important, from the Australian Government’s perspective, for Xi to indicate further reform or further opening of the Chinese market to international companies in this speech?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I’m not going to stand here on my first visit as Trade Minister to China and seek to suggest what I think President Xi needs to say. What I welcome is the fact that President Trump has indicated in public comments, that it’s been a constructive conversation he’s had recently with President Xi, that he’s looking forward to building on that at the G20. I hope that through dialogue, the U.S. and China can head off the type of escalation, in terms of tariff increases, that has been foreshadowed by the United States. Australia has always urged the parties to talk and to engage rather than to go down a protectionist path, that undermines the type of trade liberalisation that has been so critical to the economic growth of China, to lifting those millions out of poverty, that I spoke of before, and that will be so critical in the future, to continuing to ensure economic growth here, across our region, and around the world.
Journalist: Any indication yet of which Chinese officials you will be meeting during your visit? And what are some of the issues you’ll be raising with them, if you do?
Simon Birmingham: Look I’m off tonight to the state dinner that will be hosted by President Xi, and I certainly hope to be able to have conversations while I’m here, with Minister Zhong, and indeed with other officials across Chinese commerce and government where possible. In terms of precisely when those will happen, we’re still working through all of the program elements, but Australia will encourage China to continue to support the multilateral rules-based trading system, to work with us through the World Trade Organization, to address some of the areas of concern, to stand with us as a nation that promotes trade liberalisation, and of course, between Australia and China, we have an incredible story to tell and to share with other countries, from the success of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. That in opening up our two markets, we’ve seen such strong growth in terms of goods and services transactions and investment flows, all of which we believe can be enhanced elsewhere around the world. And of course we want to work to make sure that we take ChAFTA on the next steps of its journey, in terms of ensuring full utilisation of the provisions within it.
Journalist: The bilateral relationship’s been a bit rocky over the past year and you’ve had trouble, supposedly, getting other officials in, where do things stand there?
Simon Birmingham: Well I’m here today. I’m thrilled to be here in China. I look to this as a positive opportunity to highlight China’s success, the strength of the Australia-China relationship and the areas within which we can continue to work constructively in the future. We won’t always agree, no two mature countries always agree on every policy position and there are strategic challenges that the Prime Minister has rightly highlighted. But we should focus on what is a very positive relationship. One that transcends our two governments, into the extensive business-to-business, people-to-people links that we have, and to make sure we build on that for the future.
Journalist: Do you think if we don’t, if the relationship doesn’t improve, or there continues to be irritations, that could damage our trade relationship with China?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I’m an intensely positive person and I’m here wanting to bring a positive message to China, that we celebrate China’s economic success to date. We look forward to greater economic success in the future, because that’s good for our region, it’s good for Australia and we want to be a constructive partner, to continue to ensure that world economic growth is maximised through free trade and a rules-based order of trading arrangements. That regional economic growth and economic growth in our two countries is maximised by being cooperative, by ensuring we focus on how it is we create more prosperity for the peoples in our countries and those right around the region that we share.
Journalist: [Inaudible] … I think you’ve answered it but anyway, [what about the issue] that Huawei was possibly involved with some spying in some country somewhere.
Simon Birmingham: We obviously don’t comment on particular security assessments. The 5G decision was taken as a principled decision to not facilitate involvement of any companies that could be subject to direct state control or influence. We welcome Chinese investment in Australia, which has grown dramatically, and I’m sure will continue to grow. But in terms of the particulars of that, I’m sure you wouldn’t expect that we would comment on those alleged security arrangements.
Journalist: And there’s no chance of it changing. I mean, there’s some reports or rumours that the Chinese would like to change the decision or lobby to amend it or change it in some way.
Simon Birmingham: The position we’ve taken is one that takes into account national security arrangements. It does so, not targeting any one country or company, but applying consistently in terms of the type of rules and structure that we’ve outlined.