24 April 2019
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a genuine pleasure to be here today in Shenyang to mark the start of operations of Australia’s newest Consulate-General. The fact that this is no less than Australia’s sixth official post in China is itself a reflection of the importance of this bilateral relationship to both sides.
And it’s a bilateral relationship that has been a focus for much of my professional career. Discussions about this day, and the opening of this consulate, date back to 2012, when I was Australia’s Ambassador to China. So I am delighted to be here in person to engage and see these plans come to fruition.
I am delighted that Consul-General Broughton Robertson is taking forward a big agenda - to create a base from which Australia will learn more about this region’s priorities, its challenges, and most of all the opportunities where we can work together. The Consulate started operations on 25 March, and I will visit the team’s current temporary office tomorrow morning.
The Consul-General and his team have been busy building a network of contacts through introductory calls, not just here in Liaoning Province, but also in the other provincial capitals of Northeast China, Changchun in Jilin, and Harbin in Heilongjiang.
Of course we are all looking forward to the establishment of the permanent chancery, able to provide full consular and other services, in due course. I visited the building selected for our chancery earlier this afternoon, which we hope to open before the end of this year.
But while our Consulate is only just opening, our relationship began long ago.
Australian companies have been building relations with Northeast China for decades. Our resources companies have exported key inputs for your industry and bought heavy machinery produced here needed for their operations in Australia. Rio Tinto, BHP and FMG are major exporters of iron ore and coal used in your steel mills, but also buyers of specialist rolling stock and other heavy mining equipment built by companies such as Qiqiha’er’s CRRC (中国中车).
Our agricultural companies have exported their produce here and assisted with the development of some of your agricultural industries. Cooperation between our dairy industries has a long history and continues to thrive today. Heilongjiang’s Wondersun Dairy (完达山) imports significant numbers of Australian dairy cattle and collaborates with Australian partners to improve cattle breeding technology. Jilin’s Haoyue Group (皓月) and Shenyang’s Qupai (曲牌) are major importers of Australian beef and fruit respectively. The complementarity of our economies should not be understated. Communities and businesses in both our countries have benefited from this expansion in trade ties.
Trade with Northeast China is an important part of our growing bilateral trade – our trade with China is now at record levels – reaching $195 billion in the last financial year.
This growth has been strongly supported by the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. This agreement allows all Chinese goods to enter Australia tariff-free, while tariffs for many of Australia’s key exports, can also enter China tariff free. Future tariff cuts are locked in.
Two-way investment is also growing. Some Australian manufacturing companies have moved aspects of their production to Northeast China, because many production processes are more competitive in this region. Melbourne’s RYCO Hydraulics built a factory in Dalian producing world-class machinery over a decade ago. Other Australian companies are collaborating with major producers here. Australia’s Downer EDI and Changchun’s CRRC (中国中车), the world’s largest producer of rolling stock, are jointly providing new train sets for New South Wales and Victoria.
China is now the seventh most significant destination of Australian foreign direct investment abroad. Australia’s FDI in China reached $13.5 billion at the end of 2017.
China’s new Foreign Investment Law is another important step in encouraging investment, and we hope it will foster new commercial opportunities, including for Australian investors, in this region.
Northeast Chinese resources and agricultural companies are investing in Australia too. Liaoning’s Dashang Group (大商) and Weilin (伟琳), as well as Heilongjiang’s Beidahuang Group (北大荒), are notable examples of this investment, which is warmly welcomed in Australia. It is fitting that the wine served today comes from Amelia Park, a winery in Australia’s famous Margaret River Wine Region, with longstanding links to Heilongjiang’s Grand Farm (大庄园).
The Northeast has some of the best research and educational institutions in China.
Thousands of students from Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces go to study in Australia every year. Increasing numbers of Australian students come here to study, including under our New Colombo Plan. Dozens of Australian universities have joint programs and other cooperation with institutions in this region. Liaoning University’s Asia-Australia Business School is a prominent example. I am looking forward to discussing in greater detail our bilateral research and education ties with Northeast China later this evening.
The network of Australian Studies Centres at universities in China, including in Shenyang, Harbin and Mudanjiang highlight academic interest in Australia. Next year the Harbin Institute of Technology will host a biennial China Australian Studies Conference.
Australia education exchanges and science collaboration with Northeast China continue to grow. On 11 April, Australia’s Minister for Industry, Science and Technology announced funding to boost science links with China including a grant of over A$900,000 for a project between University of Technology Sydney and the Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry to identify genetic disorders.
We appreciate that in recent years, Liaoning, and indeed the other north-eastern provinces, may not have enjoyed the double-digit economic growth seen previously.
Economic adjustments are difficult, as we also know in Australia. But I have every confidence that this region’s leaders are equipped with the tools to guide the economy through a successful transition.
In many respects, I think you may even be ahead of some of your peers in moving towards the sort of lower but sustainable, high quality growth that Chinese policy makers are seeking.
Our business community remains very optimistic about the opportunities that China presents.
In a report prepared by global consultancy KPMG, and launched last November by Australian Trade and Investment Minister Simon Birmingham, over 81 per cent of Australian businesses surveyed designated China as a top three priority country for investment.
And no less than 45 per cent designated China as their top priority.
I’m pleased that the Consulate General will be able to help ensure that this optimism and this interest in engaging with China across the Australian business community is turned into real economic engagement with Northeast China.
National Foundation for Australia-China Relations
Finally, I want to highlight a major initiative that we have embarked on to facilitate new forms of collaboration, and foster deeper connections across the Australia-China relationship. The National Foundation for Australia-China Relations was announced by Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne on 29 March.
The Foundation has been allocated $44 million over 5 years and will offer grants and seed funding to support our people-to-people engagement. The Foundation will convene major dialogues and events. And engage with the Chinese-Australian community – a community of over a million strong who make a rich and valuable contribution to Australian society.
The establishment of the Foundation is a reflection of Australia’s ongoing commitment to a constructive and multi-faceted relationship with China; one founded on shared interests and mutual respect.
The breadth of this agenda and the depth of our interest more than warrants this sixth Australian mission in China.
So I would like to congratulate the Shenyang Consulate-General team for getting this newest mission in China up and running. I wish them, and you, every success in continuing to build Australia-China ties.