China and Australia celebrate 45 years of diplomatic relations amid tensions

World Today

China and Australia celebrate 45 years of diplomatic relations amid tensions

Thursday marks 45 years since China and Australia established diplomatic ties. Despite the Australian government’s decision to pursue a more pro-U.S. approach, the two countries have been working hard to move their relationship forward.

CGTN’s Greg Navarro reports.

Follow Greg Navarro on Twitter @greg_navarro

In 1972, then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam took Australia’s first steps toward establishing formal diplomatic ties with China.

“I think obviously, symbolically, Gough Whitlam taking that stance to recognize China is the most important thing,” said Tim Harcourt, an economist and professor at the University of New South Wales.

At the time, two-way trade was valued at around $113 million AUD. 45 years later, trade has become a cornerstone of that relationship, now valued at more than $730 billion AUD.

“I think this relationship between Australia and China 45 years on has underwritten the economic prosperity of Australia,” Harcourt explained.

“We haven’t had a recession for 27 years, and we have been able to get through the global financial crisis, the Asian financial crisis because of these very strong links with China.”

That economic bond was further cemented in 2015 with the signing of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement. China is now Australia’s number one trading partner –fuelled in part by China’s rapidly expanding middle class.

According to Think Global Consulting CEO David Thomas, “In Chinese terms, Australia is this very clean, green economy that enables them to get access to premium food and high quality healthcare products without having to worry about fake products or products coming out of polluted environments.”

Chinese tourists now outnumber and outspend visitors here from any other country. And Chinese students account for about 30 percent of all international students in Australia.

Experts said China has also benefitted from the relationship.

“It had been isolated from the free world, so Nixon’s visit to China in 1971 opened up China a little bit and then Australia was one of the first countries to establish a formal relationship with China. So it is extremely important,” said Feng Chongyi, an assistant professor of China Studies at the University of Technology Sydney.

More than four decades on there are continued attempts to further the cultural and the economic ties. 2017 was declared the year of tourism between the 2 countries.

Despite those attempts, there are also challenges in the evolving relationship.

Australia has been critical of China regarding its position in the South China Sea. And recently, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull introduced legislation aimed at stopping foreign influence and interference in Australian Politics. Critics say it was aimed at one country in particular.

“Now we have recently seen disturbing reports about Chinese influence,” Turnbull said. “I take those reports as do my colleagues, very seriously.”

But most experts agree that the bonds forged 45 years ago are strong enough to weather those challenges in a relationship that, in many respects, has only just begun.