Australia, Australians and Greater China

Australian immigration to China is minor compared to the movement of Chinese to Australia [topic link page]. While mainland China attracts only two percent of Australian expatriates, Hong Kong is the third most popular destination, and both are increasingly popular. There are approximately 15,000 Australians living, working and studying in mainland China, and around 90,000 in Hong Kong, 7000 in Taiwan, and 1000 in Macau. Surveys indicate that most Australians who move to China as expatriates do so in search of better job prospects. It is estimated that around six percent of Australian expatriates live in China, whereas only one percent of expatriates from other countries move there. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the majority of Australian citizens living in China are Chinese Australians.

People’s Republic of China (PRC)

Australia’s diplomatic network in China is one of its most extensive, reflecting the major bilateral economic [topic link page], education [topic link page], tourism [topic link page] and people-to-people relationships between the two countries. After diplomatic recognition of the PRC in 1972, Australia established an embassy in Beijing in 1973, followed by consulates-general in Shanghai (1984), Hong Kong (1986), Guangzhou (1992) and Chengdu (2013). The latter was opened as a ‘down payment on the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper [topic link page]’ by the Gillard government [topic link page], following protracted calls for an expanded diplomatic footprint in China. DFAT bureaus are supplemented by a network of AusTrade offices, which also cover Dalian, Qingdao, Xi’an, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Ningbo, Chengdu, Kunming, Shenzhen and Macau. Most state governments have representatives in major Chinese cities, and there are over eighty Australia–China sister city or sister state–province relationships.

Hong Kong and Macau

Hong Kong and Macau are both Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of the PRC and fall under the country remit of the Australian Embassy in Beijing, with the Australian Consul-General to Hong Kong also serving as non-resident Consul-General to Macau. Australia and Hong Kong maintain an annual A$4 billion trade relationship and a A$80 billion investment relationship, concentrated in infrastructure, trading, and financial, legal, engineering, IT and retail services. Hong Kong is the seventh-largest foreign investor in Australia and a significant source of migrants, students and tourists — including over 11,000 Hong Kong residents each year who visit on working holiday visas. The government of the Hong Kong SAR operates an Economic and Trade Office in Sydney. Australia and Macau have more ‘modest’ economic ties, dominated by James Packer’s casino ventures and by Australian gaming, hospitality, food and beverage imports. The Australian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and Macau is the largest Australian chamber of commerce outside Australia, with over 500 member companies. In October 2014, the chamber was criticised for publishing a statement accusing the Occupy Central democracy movement of being ‘damaging to Hong Kong’s international reputation’. During the same period, Australia’s Fairfax Media revealed that Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung had not disclosed A$7 million in payments from the Australian engineering company UGL for agreeing to support its acquisition of a property firm that he was a director of, stirring significant controversy in Hong Kong.


Australia adheres to a ‘One China Policy’ that recognises the PRC as the ‘sole legitimate government of China’. Therefore Australia and the Republic of China government in Taiwan do not have diplomatic relations. However, the interests of both are unofficially represented in the other through the Australian Office in Taipei and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Australia, and relations are developed on an unofficial basis through contacts such as annual Bilateral Economic Consultations. Although unofficial, the relationship is robust: Taiwan is Australia’s eleventh-largest two-way trading partner (over A$11 billion); Taiwan is Australia’s seventh-largest export market (mainly resources and energy); Australia is Taiwan’s fifteenth-largest export destination (electronics, machinery and refined petroleum); and, almost 30,000 Taiwanese visit Australia each year on working holiday visas. The Abbott government [topic page link] promised before its election in September 2013 to restore annual ministerial-level visits to Taiwan, which have been infrequent since the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis. However, an Australian ministerial visit to Taiwan has yet to occur under the Abbott government. There exists ongoing political uncertainty as to whether the US would invoke the ANZUS Treaty to request Australian military support to defend Taiwan if the PRC attempted to gain control of the island by force [topic page link: Defence].



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