Working productively with China will benefit everyone in the region

Prime Minister

From our first day in office, our Government has made it a priority to invest in Australia’s capabilities and invest in our relationships: our national defence and our international diplomacy.

We are strengthening both because we know a peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific is essential to the security and prosperity of every Australian.

As part of this important work, next week Australia will be hosting an official visit from Premier Li Qiang of China.

This is the first visit by a Chinese Premier to Australia since 2017, signalling another step forward in the patient, calibrated and deliberate efforts of our Government to rebuild dialogue with China and stabilise the relationship between our nations.

Australia’s approach has been consistent and clear: co-operate with China where we can, disagree where we must and engage in our national interest.

Welcoming the Chinese Premier to our shores is an opportunity to advance our interests by demonstrating our national values, our people’s qualities and our economy’s strengths.

While in our country, Premier Li will visit Parliament House in Canberra, the seat of our free and robust democracy.

We will both participate in a CEO roundtable in Perth, reflecting the breadth of our business ties with China, and recognising the progress we have made on trade.

When we came to Government, trade impediments imposed by China on Australia were costing our exporters over $20 billion per year. Today, our farmers, growers, miners and exporters are benefiting from being able to sell their cotton, copper, coal, timber logs, oaten hay, barley and wine to China again.

Equally, the people of China are benefiting from high-quality Australian exports, which is why I’m hopeful we will see further progress for our shellfish exporters.

All of this matters. Trade supports one in four Australian jobs, it underpins one in every three dollars of our economic output and China is far and away our largest trading partner.

Australian resources have played a pivotal role in China’s extraordinary economic transformation and the growth of our entire region.

Our Government’s plan for a future made in Australia will build on this success by catering to growing global demand for the critical minerals and rare earths essential to reach net zero.

The fact that 92 per cent of the global economy is committed to net zero presents a profound opportunity for Australia: a chance for us to make more things here, to create secure, high-paying jobs in processing, refining and manufacturing.

As more nations draw an explicit link between their economic security and their national security, we will ensure Australia’s foreign investment framework is more efficient and transparent and more effective at managing risk.

In all this, our vision for a future made in Australia is about building on our strengths, engaging in our region and succeeding on our terms.

Something else Premier Li will experience is our multicultural society, including more than one million members of the Chinese-Australian community whose hard work and aspiration has made a profound contribution to our nation.

Our Government has worked to bring this diverse combination of Australian strengths to our dealings with China, so that we always engage with China as ourselves, in the service of our national interest and in the spirit of our Australian values.

Australia’s commitment to peace helped establish the international rules-based order and we continue to advocate for an Indo-Pacific where sovereignty is respected, human rights are upheld, prosperity is driven by shared opportunity and stability is secured through collective responsibility.

As an outward-looking economy, we champion the benefits of trade and investment.

As a loyal member of the Pacific family, we support the sovereign right of every country, big and small, to choose its own destiny and secure its own future.

As a steadfast ally of the United States, we build on our rich history and draw on our shared ideals.

And as a nation enriched by people of every faith, background and tradition, Australia’s connections with China and the world are stronger because of our diaspora communities.

Through two years of engaging in Australia’s national interest, our Government has never sought stabilisation for its own sake, or at any price.

We have been upfront: China and Australia are two very different nations, with different systems of government and different ways of looking at the world.

Points of contention are inevitable, what matters is how you manage them.

I take the view that whatever our differences might be, it is always better when we can deal with each other directly, through dialogue.

This is how we firmly and calmly call-out unacceptable risks to Australian naval personnel on duty in international waters, as well as making clear Australia’s resolute position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and our unwavering support for the territorial integrity of our neighbours.

This is not always a smooth process, or a swift one but while issuing threats and delivering ultimatums may be the easy road, it never takes you very far.

In a world of increasing complexity, the true measure of foreign policy strength is the ability to effectively manage differences, not manufacture confrontations.

That’s why as well as reminding ourselves of the benefits we have been able to secure through dialogue we must always remember the potentially devastating cost of the alternative.

Australia, China and every nation in our region has a role to play in upholding the rules based-order, respecting our neighbours’ sovereignty and maintaining the stability of the Indo-Pacific. What’s more, we all have much to gain from it.

In this spirit, our Government will continue to use dialogue to advance Australia’s interests, articulate our values and build a more prosperous and secure future for all who call the Indo-Pacific home.

This opinion piece was first published in The Australian on Wednesday, 12 June 2024.

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