A New Australia-China Agenda

THE AUSTRALIAN Centre on China in the World (CIW) engages with the public and policy discussion of relations with the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese world more broadly. A New Australia-China Agenda is our contribution to the important election year of 2013 and to the on-going consideration of the bilateral relationship in 2014 and beyond.

A New Australia-China Agenda (full text, 6.7 MB)

Foreword (Geremie R Barmé and Ryan Manuel)  (full text)

The Book Launch, 28 October 2014 (YouTube)

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Chinese TitleThe Australia-China relationship touches on virtually every aspect of our national life. A mature and beneficial engagement of such breadth and depth requires the leadership and support of government at all levels, as well as public stewardship, media understanding, educational enhancement and the strategic involvement of the business community.

Australia-China exchanges are also profoundly influenced by regional and bilateral relationships. Australia and China trade in goods as well as culture, politics and people, ideas and education, community and personalities.

There is little argument that the changing and maturing relationship between Australia and China is of pressing importance, not merely to business and political cognoscenti but to people involved in nearly every field of endeavor. As never before it matters to Australians how best to analyse and describe the contemporary Chinese world and to think of ways of dealing with it, be it for economic weal, regional security, or indeed the global environment.

We are long beyond finding comfort in nostrums about the special nature or excellent quality of ‘Australia-China relations’; such tired platitudes fail to encompass the many fields in which this country requires insightful expertise. As we gathered the contributions of former diplomats, business people, cultural figures, educators, economists and entrepreneurs as part of this New Agenda project, we also reached out to those for whom the importance of the bilateral relationship will only grow with the passage of years: the young.

The founding Vice-Chancellor of The Australian National University was the noted economist, public servant and diplomat Douglas Copland (1894-1971). Before returning to Canberra to take up his new role in 1948, Copland was one of Australia’s last diplomatic emissaries to the government of the Republic of China and an on-the-ground witness to the last throes of the Pacific War in East Asia and the early months of the renewed civil war between the Nationalist and Communist parties. His time in China, his perspicacity and engagement with leading Chinese political figures, economists and thinkers led Copland to alert Canberra to the doomed American policy of support for the corrupt Nationalist leaders of the Chinese Republic and accurately predict the rise of a new, albeit socialist, China in a series of remarkable dispatches. He foretold that this new country would be of vital importance for Australia’s Asian future.

Copland’s views did not sit comfortably with Canberra, but he pursued his frank advice even when writing to Prime Minister Robert Menzies about the mission of the new institution he would soon run: ‘the establishment and maintenance of academic freedom is more important than the actual research and teaching done inside the walls of a university.’

At the time, the China-based historian CP FitzGerald (1902-1992) commended Copland on his forthright dealings with the politicians and thinkers of China, as well as with the other foreign diplomats and journalists who were witness to the momentous events that not long after would see the establishment of the People’s Republic of China under a Communist Party-led government. As Copland was leaving his diplomatic post FitzGerald praised him for being a ‘candid friend of China’, a kind of true friend that was all too rare. [The material related to Douglas Copland and CP FitzGerald here is based on the archival research of William Sima. See his China & ANU  Diplomats, Adventurers, Scholars, Canberra: Australian Centre on China in the World, forthcoming 2015.]

A founding principle of the Australian Centre on China in the World is encapsulated in the ancient Chinese term zhengyou 諍友, that is to be a principled and frank interlocutor with those in positions of authority and power, be they in the intellectual or in the political sphere. We are delighted that the concept of being an unequivocal friend in the Australia-China relationship has now become embedded in official Australian discourse. Zhengyou allowed the then-prime minister Kevin Rudd to address international concerns when he spoke to an audience at Peking University in April 2008; he further explicated it in April 2010 when he announced at ANU the establishment of the Australian Centre on China in the World and, more recently, Prime Minister Tony Abbott redeployed the idea when, facing a fractious relationship with the People’s Republic since coming to power, he declared in Beijing in April 2014 that ‘to get rich is indeed glorious – but to be a true friend is sublime’.[‘Tony Abbott lauds wealth and friendship in speech at business forum in China’, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April 2014.]

We celebrate ANU’s history of engagement both with contemporary Chinese realities and with Australian politics while cleaving still to the standards and demands of independent scholarship. We are mindful too of the responsibilities of engagé academics and the specialists who don’t resile from the demands of academe to bring into the public sphere ideas, debates and discussions that can contribute to building solid long-term policy and nurturing informed public awareness.

The present volume is a polyphonic collection of expert ideas and suggestions that we hope will be part of the unfolding Australia-China discussion. Creating this kind of conversation – and, indeed, maintaining the relationship – also requires determined, long-term public leadership and clear-eyed media involvement. It requires the public to appreciate what its political representatives think about the Australia-China relationship, to understand where its leaders and their advisers think the relationship should or could be directed, and to have information regarding what should or should not be done to make this work for Australia, China and the region. In this sense, there are many chapters still to be written in any Australia-China agenda; we hope that you will take the essays here as a starting point.

The book was launched by the Honorable Andrew Leigh MP and Senator Dean Smith at Parliament House on the evening of 28 October 2014. Andrew Leigh’s launch speech is available here.Geremie R Barmé and Ryan Manuel

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A New Australia-China Agenda (full text, 6.7 MB)

Foreword (Geremie R Barmé and Ryan Manuel)  (full text)

The Book Launch, 28 October 2014 (YouTube)

Agenda Papers