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Factba.se: Australia DFAT Country Briefs - China


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The Australian Government pursues constructive and friendly relations with China on the basis of mutual respect and recognition of both our shared interests and our differences. China's importance to Australia has grown with China's increasing economic, political and strategic weight.

The large number of high-level visits underscores the strength and importance of our bilateral relationship with China. Since the election of the Labor Government in November 2007, the former Governor-General and current Governor-General, Prime Minister (twice) and Treasurer (twice) have visited China, as have the Ministers for Foreign Affairs (twice); Trade (seven times); Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government; Innovation, Industry, Science and Research; Climate Change and Water (twice); Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (twice); Tourism, Resources and Energy (four times); and Sport. The Speaker of the House of Representatives also led a Parliamentary delegation to China in April 2010.

Several Chinese leaders have visited Australia in recent times as well. Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Australia in September 2007 for the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting and for a bilateral visit. Vice President Xi Jinping visited in June 2010, and Executive Vice Premier Li Keqiang visited in October 2009.Senior Chinese Communist Party leaders Li Changchun and Zhou Yongkang visited Australia in March 2009 and November 2008 respectively. There have also been visits by China's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yang Jiechi (in February 2008) and the Chairman of the National Development Reform Commission, Zhang Ping (in October 2008).

Australia and China concluded a joint statement (PRC country information) on the bilateral relationship during Executive Vice Premier Li Keqiang's visit in October 2009. The joint statement – the first since 1972 – reaffirmed the two sides' willingness to enhance cooperation in various fields, and promote the expansion of the relationship. China and Australia share important common interests in promoting peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, and in the joint statement the two sides agreed to strengthen coordination in multilateral institutions and development assistance in the Pacific. The joint statement also reaffirmed Australia's and China's commitment to open trade and investment policies, and to advancing economic cooperation.

The breadth of the bilateral relationship is also demonstrated by the range of consultation mechanisms that Australia and China have established. The two sides maintain a number of bilateral dialogues to advance cooperation and manage differences. Dialogues cover bilateral, regional and global issues, including trade and economic cooperation, the global economic crisis, resources, aid, defence, regional security, disarmament, human rights, climate change and consular matters. In October 2009, Foreign Minister Smith gave a major speech to the Australian National University's China Institute on the Australia-China relationship (http://www.foreignminister.gov.au/speeches/2009/091026_aus_china.html) .

On April 23 2010, then Prime Minister Rudd gave the 70th Morrison Lecture at the Australian National University on ' Australia and China in the World (http://pmrudd.archive.dpmc.gov.au/node/6700" title="Australia and China in the World, 70th Morrison Lecture, Australian National University, Canberra) '. In that speech, Mr Rudd called for a more balanced, mature and sophisticated approach to China based on a deeper understanding of China. He characterised the relationship as a 'true friendship' – based on trust, commitment, and frank dialogue.

Engagement between Australia and China on defence and strategic issues has been enhanced. The bilateral Defence Dialogue has been upgraded to the level of Secretary of the Department of Defence and Chief of the Defence Force. Chinese People's Liberation Army Chief of General Staff, General Chen Bingde, visited Australia in October 2009 for the most recent round of the dialogue. Two rounds of the Australia-China Strategic Dialogue, held in February 2008 and March 2009, were conducted at ministerial level. Australian Chiefs of the Defence Force, Army and Navy all made visits to China in 2008 or 2009 to promote bilateral defence ties. China's most senior military officer, General Guo Boxiong, visited Australia in May 2010, representing a new level of cooperation in defence relations.

Trade ties provide a strong underpinning to the bilateral relationship. The Trade and Economic Framework (TEF) signed in October 2003 provides the basis for the further development of our trade with China. The Framework sets the agenda for strengthening and expanding the economic relationship, and lays a sound foundation for Australia and China to identify and take advantage of new commercial opportunities. The TEF focuses on closer cooperation and developing strategies to promote business opportunities in areas of high potential.

In April 2005, following completion of a joint feasibility study, both countries agreed to commence negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Both countries are working hard to conclude an agreement. The negotiations are complex, with sensitivities on both sides, and as such there is no set deadline for completing the talks. The 14th round of negotiations took place in Canberra in February 2010. The 15th round was held in June in Beijing. Further information on the FTA negotiations is available at the China FTA webpage of the DFAT website (http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/china/fta/) .

Cooperation on climate change issues (http://www.dfat.gov.au/environment/index.html) is becoming increasingly important in the bilateral relationship, as China will soon be the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, according to the International Energy Agency. Cooperation to combat climate change is now a priority for both countries and is regularly discussed at high-level bilateral meetings. In April 2008, the Prime Minister and Minister for Climate Change and Water concluded a Joint Statement on Closer Cooperation on Climate Change with China, which includes a commitment to a Ministerial-level dialogue. The inaugural Australia-China Ministerial Dialogue on Climate Change was held on 18 November 2008 in Canberra, and the second Ministerial-level dialogue held on 14-15 October 2009 in Beijing was co-hosted by the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Penny Wong, and the Vice Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, Xie Zhenhua.

Our bilateral political engagement is extensive, though both sides acknowledge that Australia and China have different histories, different societies and different political systems, as well as differences of view on important issues. Australia and China are committed to managing differences when they arise constructively and on the basis of mutual respect. Australia adheres to its one-China policy, which means it does not recognise Taiwan as a country. We maintain unofficial contacts with Taiwan primarily to promote our legitimate economic, trade and cultural interests there.

Our approach to managing differences on human rights in China aims at being constructive and is based on dialogue. The Australia-China Human Rights Dialogue is an important forum for frank exchanges on human rights and for identifying areas where Australia can help China implement international human rights standards, including through technical cooperation. The most recent round of our bilateral Human Rights Dialogue took place in Canberra on 9 and 10 February 2009. We raised a wide range of issues including freedom of expression, freedom of religion, treatment of political prisoners and ethnic minorities, Tibet, torture, the death penalty, Falun Gong, re-education through labour, women's and children's rights, and the rights of legal practitioners and civil rights activists. The next round of talks is planned to be held in Beijing in 2010.

Our human rights technical assistance program aims to enhance China's legal system and advance human rights at a practical level. Though progress is slow, this approach is preferable to the alternative – public condemnation of China – which is often counter-productive. Australia recognises that China has made progress over the past 30 years and that the Chinese people enjoy a greater degree of personal freedom than before, but our views on human rights still differ. The Chinese also acknowledge these differences, and that there are continuing human rights failings in China that need to be addressed.

Australia also regularly expresses its concerns to China about human rights in Tibet. The Australian Government has called on the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama's representatives to resume substantive dialogue and to work towards an agreed outcome. The Dalai Lama has visited Australia several times, most recently in December 2009, in his capacity as a spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

Other facets of the relationship include our development cooperation with China. Our engagement is focused on high-level policy engagement, mostly at the national level in the agreed sectors of: governance (economic reform and management, legal and social security reform and human rights); health (health systems strengthening and controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases); and the environment (improved environmental governance, policy implementation and water resource management). As China becomes an increasingly important player in global development, we are also engaging with China on international development issues, including as a donor in the Pacific.

People-to-people links also play a vital role in the Australia-China relationship. The Australia-China Council (ACC) (http://www.dfat.gov.au/acc/index.html) promotes such links. Its current priorities are grouped under three themes: education and science, economics and trade, and society and culture. An important part of the education and science theme is the ACC's Australian Studies in China Program, which provides funding to Australian Studies Centres in Chinese tertiary institutions.

The Chinese community in Australia is an important part of our people-to-people links with China, and high growth in tourism and education has bolstered these links. In 2009, Chinese visitor arrivals surpassed 350,000. With more than 155,000 enrolments in 2009, Chinese students make up almost one quarter of all Australia's international student enrolments. Australia is one of the most popular destinations for Chinese students wishing to study overseas. Australia and China have more than 75 sister city/sister state relationships. Diverse cultural activities are raising the profile of Australia, encouraging tourism and business, and fostering cultural ties between the countries.

The World Expo being held in Shanghai from May to October 2010 is a further opportunity to demonstrate Australian culture at the Australian Pavilion (http://australianpavilion.com/). The Pavilion was formally opened by Foreign Minister Smith on 18 May 2010. The Minister noted that 'Australia's presence at Expo 2010 underscores the Australian Government's commitment to further strengthen our ties with China.' Mr Crean launched "Brand Australia" internationally at the Australian Pavilion on 20 May. The Governor-General presided over Australia's National Day at the Expo on 8 June.

The Year of Australian Culture in China (YOACIC) (https://imagineaustralia.net/" title="Imagine Australia: Year of Australian Culture in China) , a program to promote Australian culture in China in 2010-2011 will also run parallel to the Expo, but will extend throughout China. The YOACIC will be managed by the Australian International Cultural Council (AICC) (http://www.dfat.gov.au/aicc/index.html).

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Under China's political system, state structures are subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which holds predominant political power. According to the Constitution adopted in March 1982, the National People's Congress (NPC) is the highest organ of state power. The NPC meets once a year for about two weeks to enact laws, appoint or remove the Premier and Ministers of the State Council, and approve national economic plans and state budgets. The first session of the 11th NPC was held in March 2008 and confirmed the appointments of President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and the Chairman of the NPC Wu Bangguo for the next five years. Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang were also appointed Vice President and Executive Vice-Premier respectively. The focus of the third session of the 11th NPC (5-14 March 2010) was maintaining economic growth and improving livelihoods, including education reform.

The 17th Communist Party Congress was held from 15 to 21 October 2007. It reappointed Hu Jintao as General Secretary and also established China's future goals in economic, domestic and foreign policy, as well as reaffirming the priorities of the past five years. The Congress also changed the Party Constitution to reflect the importance of the concepts of "scientific development" and "harmonious society", which seek to ameliorate the social effects of China's economic reforms and rapid growth.

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Until its recent slowdown in 2009, China had experienced a sustained period of rapid economic expansion, with GDP growth averaging about 10 per cent over the last two decades. Although growth slowed to 8.7 per cent in 2009, this growth rate remains highest by international standards (the world GDP contracted by 2.2 per cent in 2009). China is the world's second largest economy in purchasing power parity terms (3rd largest in exchange rate terms). At the end of 2009, China overtook Germany to become the world largest exporter of goods.  Despite this growth, China's per capita GDP, at around US$3,566, remains relatively low.

China faces the long-term challenge of rebalancing its economy away from its current pattern of investment and export-led growth to more sustainable growth generated by expanding household consumption and a larger services sector. In the short-term, the Chinese Government's top priority is maintaining its economic growth target of 8 per cent in 2010.

The Chinese Government's key policy responses to the global economic downturn have been its RMB 4 trillion (US$586 billion) government spending package for 2009-2010.  This stimulus package includes key infrastructure-related projects, such as building rural infrastructure, upgrading public housing, expanding railways, highways, ports and airports, and accelerating disaster reconstruction. The Chinese Government has also instituted a 'moderately easy' monetary policy in response to the economic slowdown, cutting interest and lowering commercial bank reserve requirements.

China has announced expenditure of RMB 850 billion (USD120 billion) to provide basic health care for 90 per cent of the population by 2011, in part to discourage excessive precautionary saving. Further investment is needed in other parts of the social welfare net such as the national pension and unemployment benefits. However, these will take time to introduce, and the government's desire to soften the short-term effects of the global economic downturn has led to a raft of policies which have reinforced, rather than countered, China's economic imbalances.

Securing supplies to meet its rapidly growing energy needs is also a major challenge for China. China is now the world's second largest producer and consumer of energy after the United States. To ensure its future energy supplies, China has been actively pursuing outward investment in energy and resources projects around the world. China is also promoting renewable energy options and imposing energy efficiency targets.

Reform of the agricultural sector remains a key challenge, particularly in building a system of enforceable land rights, providing greater access to credit for farmers and allowing freer movement of workers from country to city regions.

Due to China's one child policy and a rising life expectancy, China has a rapidly ageing population. The proportion of those aged over 65 is set to increase from 7 per cent of the population in 2000 to about 20 per cent in 2040. The ratio of working-age people to non-working-age people will fall over the same period from the current level of five to one, to three to one. This will place unprecedented strain on China's social security system, healthcare system, workforce, and families caring for elderly members in the absence of adequate aged care facilities. The Chinese Government has earmarked 13 billion yuan under its economic stimulus program to deal with some of these emerging social issues.

Other longer-term risks to China's economic growth include environmental degradation, corruption, rural poverty and the lack of adequate social safety nets. Key challenges include strengthening the financial sector, building a strong legal system, managing labour flows, strengthening the fiscal system, rationalising the social security system and reforming the exchange rate.

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China remained Australia's largest trading partner (goods and services) in 2009, with total trade valued at A$85.1 billion, an increase of 15.1 per cent over the previous year. China is also Australia's largest merchandise trading partner (valued at A$78.2 billion in 2009), with total merchandise exports valued at A$42.4 billion, an increase of 31.2 per cent over the previous financial year. Total merchandise imports were valued at A$35.8 billion, an increase of 1.5 per cent in 2009.

China was Australia's largest source of imports. Total imports (goods and services) from China were valued at A$37.3 billion, an increase of 1 per cent in 2009.

Australia-China two-way investment has lagged behind the trade relationship, but is growing.  At the end of 2008 (most recent data available), total Australian investment in China reached $6.9 billion, making China our 14th largest investment destination. Australian financial institutions have a number of investments in Chinese banks and there is interest in the mining sector. More opportunities for Australian investment will open up as China's services sector expands.

Chinese investment interest in Australia, particularly in the resources sector, continues to increase rapidly. Since November 2007, the Government has approved over 160 proposals for Chinese investment in Australian business and total investment of around A$60 billion (at 25 May 2010). Only five involved conditions, undertakings or amendments.

The Australian Government is taking forward a major new 'sector by sector and province by province' trade initiative with China. We are working with provincial governments in China to create the government-to-government frameworks through which Australian companies will be better placed to secure business opportunities. The geographic focus is on China's rapidly growing inland provinces, targeting sectors where there is a natural trade, investment and innovation fit with Australian industries. In July 2009, Mr Crean visited Shanghai, Zhejiang, Anhui and Hubei with Senator Carr to promote Australian auto capabilities and exports. Australia and China agreed to establish Frameworks for Cooperation with Anhui and Hubei provinces, with a focus on autos, clean energy and other sectors that present strategic opportunities. The Framework for Cooperation with Hubei was signed in December 2009.

During Mr Crean's visit to China from 15 to 21 May 2010, he met central and provincial government leaders in Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong and Shanghai to discuss opportunities to deepen and diversify our bilateral economic relationship with China. On 20 May, Mr Crean witnessed the signing of a framework agreement with Anhui province with an emphasis on cooperation in the auto sector.

The Australian Government also remains committed to negotiating a high quality Free Trade Agreement with China to reduce barriers to business across the board. The next round of formal negotiations will take place in late June 2010 in Beijing.

Recent trends

Australian exports to China continue to perform strongly despite the global economic downturn. In 2009, exports to China accounted for over one-fifth of total Australian exports, up from approximately five per cent in 2000.

Strong resources exports continue to underpin the positive trade data. Australia exported 266.2 million tonnes of iron ore to China in 2009 (A$21.7 billion in value terms), an increase of 45.2 per cent over the same period in 2008. Australia's coal exports to China grew by 1000 per cent last year to become our second largest export commodity, behind iron ore. Over the last 12 months, two further LNG contracts have been signed for the supply of Australian gas to Chinese terminals. The future prospects for continued growth in our resources exports to China are good.

Over the long-term, the fundamental drivers of urbanisation, industrialisation and population growth should continue to underpin Chinese demand for Australian resources. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) forecasts that Chinese steel production will grow at an average annual rate of 7 per cent over the next five years.

Exports by sector

The composition of Australia's merchandise exports to China is: minerals 59.7 per cent; agricultural 8.1 per cent; manufacturing 8.5 per cent; and fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) 15.6 per cent and other 8.1 per cent. Between 2004 and 2009, mineral exports to China grew at an average annual rate of almost 47 per cent. Over the same period agricultural exports grew at a more modest pace of 6.3 per cent. Manufacturing exports grew by an average of 13.2 per cent annually.

Australia exported A$3.4 billion in agricultural goods to China in 2009 representing a fall of 2.2 per cent over 2008. Wool was our largest agricultural export to China (266,141 tonnes worth A$1.38 billion in 2009 – 66 per cent of China's total wool imports). However, wool exports to China fell 3.9 per cent in 2009, reflecting partly China's deteriorating export performance. Strong export growth in agricultural goods was recorded in canola, live animals, fish, edible products, wine and meat.

In the past ten years, China has risen from our 10th-largest export market for elaborately transformed manufactures (valued at A$642 million in 2000) to our third-largest (valued at A$1.8 billion in 2009). In the medium to long-term, Chinese government stimulus efforts are likely to impact positively on Australian exports of simply transformed manufactures (for use in the construction/infrastructure sectors) and elaborately transformed manufactures.

Australia's services exports to China, valued at A$5.5 billion in 2009, are dominated by educational and recreational travel and have averaged annual growth of 18 per cent over the past five years (the value of Australia's service imported from China was A$1.47 billion in 2009, a decrease of 8.7 per cent). China remains Australia's largest source of overseas students, with around 155,000 enrolments in Australian educational institutions in 2009. The official estimate of "actual students" in 2009 was 118,000.

Chinese imports

China is Australia's largest source of merchandise imports (A$35.8 billion in 2009). The import mix is dominated by clothing, communications equipment, computers, prams, toys, games and sporting goods, furniture and televisions. Australian imports from China increased 1.5 per cent in 2009, while Australian total imports fell 11.2 per cent in 2009.

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Business success in the Chinese market requires awareness of the opportunities available and an understanding of the Chinese culture and legal system. In addition, a well placed and sourced personal introduction is helpful. Austrade's network of offices in China is well placed to assist.

For more information on doing business in China and about specific export opportunities, go to the Austrade website (http://www.austrade.gov.au/China/). As well as country-specific information, the Austrade website also has a database that can be searched by industry.

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Last Updated: June 2010

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