On his second visit to China, John Howard discussed the nature of Australia’s bilateral relationship with China.
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Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s Address at the AustCham Breakfast, Kempinski Hotel, Beijing, China.
Thank you very much Mr Foskett. To Australia’s Ambassador to China, and the Chinese Ambassador to Australia, Mr Vice Minister, Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen. For myself and my party we are very pleased indeed to have this opportunity this morning on the first of my full days in China to talk very directly to a group of people who have played a major role in the development of what is now a very strong and soundly based bilateral relationship. Symbolically the visit also marks the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and China and whilst it is important to look back over the last thirty years, to mark up the achievements, to recognise that we’ve had a capacity as two very different societies to work through differences whilst at the same time sensibly focusing on the things that we have in common, it is also important as we mark the 30th anniversary not to focus in any complacent sense on what has been achieved.
The opportunities for deepening the relationship are almost limitless and it’s deepening the relationship and broadening it even further which is the major goal for this my second bilateral visit to China.
The achievements of the last thirty years have been very impressive and nowhere more impressive than in the area of people to people links. Something in the order of 20,000 to 25,000 Chinese students a year go to Australia. Chinese dialects, after Italian, are more widely spoken than any other language in Australia with the exception of English. And the contribution made by people of ethnic Chinese descent to the development of the modern Australia, and very particularly the major cities, in particular again Sydney, has been quite remarkable. And of course the other growing symbolism which we hope for our part we will translate into practical assistance between Australia and China and more specifically Sydney and Beijing is the fact that Beijing has won the right, which delighted us, to host the Olympic Games in the year 2008.
China is Australia’s third best trading partner. China has taken an increasing number of exports from Australia. Indeed over the last five or six years Australian exports to China have more than doubled and I share Mr Foskett’s enthusiasm for increasing those flows and those patterns of trade between our two countries. Australia is delighted that China has won accession to the World Trade Organiatoin and the Vice-Minister and I exchanged a few reminiscences regarding that over breakfast. I think the arrangements concluded between Australia and China in relation to the World Trade Organisation are very beneficial to both countries.
Tourism is another area where the opportunities for expansion are huge. China is rapidly approaching a situation where it’s fair to estimate that by the year 2010 there could be a million visitors a year to Australia from China and she will easily therefore surpass other sources of tourism to our country.
At a political and diplomatic level I have sought since becoming Prime Minister to focus on those things that China and Australia have in common. No relationship can be free of difficulties and challenges. There is no flawless bilateral relationship anywhere in the world and I have sought to be realistic both about our differences and also those things that we have in common. Australia and China are different societies. We have different history, different politics, different geography, and different experiences through the centuries. But in the modern world, in the 21st century, there is an increasing complementarity between our two communities and our two countries.
We are both part of the still very fast growing Asian Pacific region. We have survived the worst of the economic downturns that have affected other countries. In fact Australia and China share the distinction of being two countries that have successfully passed through the Asian economic downturn and again some of the difficulties that we experienced last year.
Speaking for Australia I can report to you that we have now had a number of years of very strong economic growth and there’s every reason to believe that Australia will be if not the fastest than very close to being the fastest of the highly developed countries in the world this year. We have implemented a number major economic reforms most particularly in the area of industrial relations and taxation. We have paid off large amounts of government debt through very tough fiscal policies. We have a very competitive and a very open economy and that has enabled us to be flexible enough to deal with the challenges of economic downturns in our region.
Looking at China I see a very impressive record of growth. It is a transformation of an economy of historic proportions. Given China’s size and China’s obvious influence not only in the region but around the world the economic change which is occurring in this country is of quite historic proportions and has huge and I believe beneficial implications not only for the people of this country but also for the region and the world. Australia seeks to be a partner with China not only in the region but more generally. We want to share your economic growth. We have contributed in the past in many areas, not least in the area of resources but not only in the area of resources, and we want to continue to contribute. And now that your country has entered the World Trade Organisation, embrace the opportunities for further growth in your trade and further growth in your economy is very considerable.
Both Australia and China have a strong and mutually shared interest in the security and the stability of our region. I have to say that of all of the international meetings I have attended either as Prime Minister or previously none was more important than the meeting I attended of APEC leaders in Shanghai in October of last year. Coming as it did so soon after the 11th of September the leadership displayed at that meeting by President Jiang Zemin was widely respected and applauded by all of the other leaders and it provided all of us at that meeting, the Chinese President, the President of the United States, the President of Russia, the Prime Minister of Japan, the President of Indonesia and all the other leaders, provided all of us with a forceful reminder of how dependent we are each on the other for the maintenance of stability and security in our region and around the world and the need for the nations of the world to co-operate against common threats such as terrorism. And I came away from that meeting with a very strong belief not only in the importance of the role to be played by China in the future security architecture of the region and the world, but also the willingness of the leaders of those countries to work together to achieve common goals.
So I can say to you today as Australian Prime Minister on my third visit to your country in office, and the second bi-lateral visit, that the state of the relationship between our two countries is soundly based. We have come a long way in the last thirty years but the importance is to focus on how we can expand and make that relationship better and stronger. And that is where the men and women in this audience are so important. Because no matter what the size of an economy may be and where it may be in terms of growth and development, the fundamental of the economic growth and wealth of any nation is private sector business activity.
Two days ago I attended the Independence celebrations for East Timor. East Timor has fewer than a million people. It is one of the poorest nations by ordinary economic measurements in the world and it will need a lot of help from a lot of nations and Australia will continue to play a very significant role as we should because of our historic association with that tiny country. But in my remarks when I was in East Timor I made the point that whilst foreign aid would be important, and whilst programmes of foreign assistance would always be important, in the end the success or failure of the East Timorese economy would rest on the capacity of her people to encourage private business investment and private enterprise.
And so it is with a country that small as it is with a country as large as China. What is happening to China now is this historic transformation, the burgeoning role of the private business sector and the potential that that has unleashed and will continue to unleash. Australia is excited about the prospect of being a partner in that development. The government I lead brings very strong private enterprise credentials. We see private enterprise and business as the generator of wealth in our country and we seek, not always perfectly and not always flawlessly, but we seek nonetheless to create conditions in Australia that encourage business growth and business investment. And in our interface with the leaders of China we will always encourage the growth and the development of that same approach.
Can I congratulate the Chamber for bringing this gathering together. It gives me an opportunity to speak directly to you about the importance I place on the relationship. I have never resorted to empty superlatives about bi-lateral relationships. What matters in a relationship is what you achieve in practical and real terms. We have achieved a great deal over the last thirty years. We have achieved a great deal economically. We have achieved a great deal politically and strategically. We have an understanding of China and Chinese people in Australia that our country men and women of thirty years ago wouldn’t have dreamt of. And that is of course overwhelming due to the presence of so many Australian citizens of Chinese descent. And I believe that in the years ahead we can build on all of that and a very important element will of course be the role played by the business communities of our two nations. And that is why this breakfast is important to me on this visit and that is why the Chamber is very important, Mr Chairman to the bi-lateral relationship.
I thank all of you for the contribution that you have made. Keep doing it. Keep pushing harder to make the relationship even deeper and stronger. We will certainly do it at a political level and we will work in partnership with you. And can I thank you Mr Chairman for your kind remarks about the quality of Australia’s representation in this country. It is important. No bi-lateral relationship works well unless there is harmony and co-operation and common purpose between the nation’s diplomatic and political representation and its business community. And I’m delighted to learn that that relationship is in such good state here in Beijing.
I thank you very warmly for your contribution to this very important bi-lateral relationship. I wish you well. It’s been a great opportunity to be with you. Thank you.