China and Australia: Where to from here? - Minister Wang Xining's Address at the National Press Club
2020/08/26

 

Thank you President Sabra Lane for your introduction and the National Press Club of Australia for the invitation to address your members. I am honoured to be here.

As advised by my Australian friends, I would like to begin with acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we gather today, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

I also want to thank Mr. Hamish MacDonald, host of ABC's Q&A program in particular. Last time I took part in his program, he encouraged me to appear on TV again to present more Chinese views and perspectives. But I feel more at ease today, because Hamish is not the host, so perhaps I won't be interrupted at the following Q&A session.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As a representative from the Chinese Embassy, I will present a Chinese perspective on the China-Australia relationship and share with you both my government's positions on diplomatic issues and my personal observations on social phenomena.

In my view, the relationship between China and Australia is long-standing and weight-carrying.

Two years ago, we commemorated the 200-year anniversary of Chinese migration to Australia. In two years time, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the People's Republic of China and the Commonwealth of Australia.

To understand where our relationship stands now, let's focus on the first two decades of the 21st century, when China and Australia became closely bounded together with amazing speed.

During the past 20 years, our trade volume has grown from less than 10 billion to 235 billion Australian dollars last year.

We became attractive markets of business and investment to each other. Over 12,000 Australian companies have set up branches in China. Chinese investment in Australia has exceeded 40 billion US dollars in accumulative term.

The fast-growing economic and trade ties culminated in the signing of the free trade agreement CHAFTA in 2015 .

At the beginning of the century, the number of Chinese students in Australia was slightly less than 15,000. Last year, the number was 229,000.

In 2002, 190,100 Chinese tourists visited this continent. In 2019, the number rose to 1.43million.

China has been Australia's biggest trade partner for 11 years in a row and is now Australia's largest source of international students and tourists, and more promisingly, most important collaborator on scientific research on account of the number of university research papers and mentions in the top 1 per cent of most-cited articles.

On top of these impressive statistics, there have been more heartening accomplishments on the human dimensions of our relationship. The constantly growing business connections and cultural exchanges have consequential impact on deepening our mutual understanding and appreciation and forging stronger friendship and affinity between our peoples.

This has laid the most solid and lasting foundation of our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership which was proclaimed during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Australia in 2014.

This Partnership is no mirage on the sea. It is the result of centuries of interaction and association between our peoples. It is the result of decades of trust-building between our leaderships.

But it is no easy task to keep a partnership in good shape. It takes concerted determination and joint efforts to make it thrive. Married couples know how hard it is. While a rift between husband and wife hurts one family, a rift between two countries will hurt millions.

I wish to propose four key words as principles that may help to maintain and promote our partnership: respect, goodwill, fairness and vision.

The first word is respect. We know that China and Australia are different in many aspects, be it length of history, root of culture, size of population, feature of economy, level of development, form of government, type of law system. Respect will anchor our relationship in the torrent of differences.

The benchmark of respect between countries, in my understanding, is to follow the basic norms governing contemporary international relations. We should respect each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and refrain from interfering in other's internal affairs. We should respect each other's choice of social and political system and mode of development, and refrain from imposing one's own idea onto the other. We should respect each other's legal system and rule of law and refrain from interrupting the other's legal proceedings and undertakings.

China respects Australia's sovereignty. As China's sovereignty was constantly in jeopardy or disarray in modern history under intimidation and threat from external powers, the least thing China wants to do is to inflict on others what China suffered, or to bully others as we were bullied. We Chinese know dearly the vice of such conduct. We despise it, reject it and will never engage in it.

China does not interfere in Australia's internal affairs. Nor do we have any intention to change Australia's political and social culture. The Chinese government always requests our corporate and natural persons, when they come to Australia for various purposes, to abide by Australia's laws and regulations, follow local conventions, fulfill social responsibilities and contribute to local communities.

Naturally, China expects reciprocity in terms of respect, which I believe should arise from better mutual understanding through conscientious academic study and social exchange based on genuine facts and objective analyses, free from sway of political force or vested interest.

The second word is Goodwill. We may disagree on some issues and even disagree on how disagreement should be presented. But our partnership will not be wrecked by differences or disagreements as long as we wish each other well and approach all the issues with goodwill.

Our differences may appear stark, but our commonalities at human level far outweigh the discrepancy in superstructure. We both value life and family. We both cherish peace and stability. We both embrace equality and freedom. We both uphold justice and rule of law. Most importantly, we both wish the others to live as aspired, by choosing a methodology that we find fit and proper for ourselves. That is what we call goodwill.

When we the people with goodwill are confronted with a different methodology, we do not panic, because we know that deep in our hearts people hold dear the same core values, and a methodology will work only in good conditions and survive only with success. We the people with goodwill will not label others evil only because they have different understanding and interpretation of the worldly beings and affairs, nor will we reject fresh ideas and useful methods that offer us more opportunities and choices.

China is full of goodwill. China always wishes Australia peace and prosperity. We don't contest Australia over its domestic policy on safeguarding national interest and promoting Australians' well-being. We don't see Australia as a strategic threat, as there is no conflict of fundamental interest between us, and no major historical irritants to be healed. Our journalists generally portray Australia as a sunny land and house of friends, although they sometimes feel a need to return barbs from some commentators here.

There is no more fitting testimony of goodwill between our peoples than while the world is being ravaged by COVID-19. At the early stage of this pandemic, people from Australia extended supporting hands and messages to the Chinese people. Friends in government departments, business and social organizations helped China sourcing PPEs both from Australian and international suppliers.

When most foreigners were fleeing from China, Captain Myles Weston refused to leave his post in Xiamen Airlines and flew the first cargo flight to Wuhan full of medical equipment. Mr. Hazza Harding went back to Guangzhou from Brisbane to reinforce the radio broadcast team with his Chinese colleague. They became heroes in Chinese social media.

And later when there was an outbreak in Australia, Chinese foreign service, health administration, sister city governments, PPE suppliers and medical tech companies, all rushed to help.

Despite sporadic reporting that distorted facts and discredited philanthropy, such as the so-called PPE hoarding by Chinese companies, most of our people demonstrated goodwill and exchanged the warmth of sympathy, compassion, solidarity and friendship as fellow human beings in face of a killer virus.

The third word is fairness. It is a market rule, a trader's ethic and a social principle.

The rapid trade growth between China and Australia could not have been achieved without fairness in place. A fair, open, non-discriminatory policy and regulatory environment that offers stronger market predictability, financial stability and legal reliability, does enormous good to our businesses.

There is no reason for our governments to resile from building such an environment, as the highly complementary economic structures between China and Australia give our business natural impetus for trade and investment.

China, after decades of market-oriented economic reform, has built a strong and competitive manufacturing capacity which covers all major industrial categories. Australia, as an OECD member, has achieved rounds of economic restructuring and upgraded business efficiency and sector profitability to top the world's list. The two economies fit each other like tenon and mortise. We could serve as a classic case of comparative advantages, which if working well, would make Adam Smith chuckle in his grave. We could and should make it work the best.

As the Chinese economy grows, there will be expanding demand for high quality agricultural, energy and mineral products, as well as high-end service products.

China spares no effort in improving business environment. In 2019, the World Bank ranked China the 31st in the world, rising from 46th in 2018 and 78th in 2017. Although I wish China would catch up with Australia's current global ranking at the 18th, the quicker the better, I also hope that Australia will remain high on the list, not to be dragged down for pushing foreign business or investment away on account of ill-founded and in many cases imported assertions of security breach, IPR infringement and forced technology transfer.

The fourth word is Vision.

In his address to the Australian Parliament, President Xi Jinping said, we have every reason to go beyond a commercial partnership to become strategic partners who have a shared vision and pursue common goals.

Our vision is that both China and Australia will play active roles in promoting regional stability and prosperity and advocating world peace and development.

Today, Asia has 60% of the world's population, accounts for 40% of the world's GDP, and enjoys the fastest economic growth. Asia pacific is the most dynamic and robust economic region in terms of market, trade and investment.

As China and Australia sit geographically at the two ends of this region, trade and investment between us not only generate value for our business, create jobs for our people, increase revenue for our governments, but also bring opportunities to third-party business, instill vitality in neighboring economies, and speed up regional economic development and integration.

We attach great importance to APEC, EAS and other regional mechanisms, and to enhance our readiness to meet new challenges, actively push forward the process of the new-born RCEP. We need to boost confidence in the future and coherence of this region together with our neighbors.

We see great strength in the principles of international relations enshrined in the UN Charter, in yearning around the world for peace and development, in the international system that safeguards and advocates multilateralism, free trade, rule of law and global governance. We need to make the UN, its specialized agencies and the WTO vigorous and active.

We maintain great interest in globalization, which is unstoppable and irreversible despite intermittent surge of unilaterlism and parochialism, and will only accelerate in this century with more breakthroughs in science and technology and in communication and transportation.

We remember Prime Minister Gough Whitlam for his visionary visit to China, Prime Minister Bob Hawke for his visionary proposition of APEC and Prime Minister John Howard for his visionary promotion of better understanding of China. Vision guides a country. Vision leads the world. Vision benefits our people.

Ladies and gentleman, now I'd like to offer some points on how we the Chinese see China and its position in the world.

We the Chinese see China today as the biggest developing country in the world. China's GDP ranks second globally. It is an amazing achievement of the previous generations since the country was once in a ramshackle state in early 20th century. But China was for long in history the biggest economy in the world until early 19th century. Our nation craves and deserves rejuvenation.

According to our national plan, a moderately prosperous society will be built up this year. China will realize socialist modernization with all basics in place by the year 2035, and become a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful in mid of this century.

But the road to rejuvenation could be bumpy and muddy. We seek not to tread the old path of the developed economies but to blaze a new trail. There are profound reasons.

Today, China supports 19% of the world's population, 16% of global GDP, 12% of global trade, 28% of world economic growth, with only 7% of the world's arable land, 6% of fresh water and 12% of mineral resources.

China's population density is 45 times that of Australia, 4 times that of the US. China's GDP is roughly ten times larger than Australia, and trade volume nine times, but Australia's GDP per capita is six times larger than China, and personal wealth nine times.

China cannot afford to live in the Australian way or the American way, because of different natural endowment, demographic profile and economic status. We do not believe that unbounded materialism is sustainable, or that untethered consumerism is ethical. We need to find out how to share quality living among our fellow citizens, how to share growth opportunities with other economies, and how to share mother nature with other species.

To my understanding, sharing is a major trait of socialist belief. A socialist system will guide and facilitate sharing of wealth and opportunities among members of a society with differentiated remuneration in proportion to personal contribution. Modern capitalism survives as an outcome of gradual incorporation of socialist elements, including pension, compulsory education and medical welfare.

China is and will remain in the primary stage of socialism for a long period of time. The overarching mandate of the government, and the Communist Party of China, is to meet the ever-growing needs of our people for better life and promote comprehensive human development and common prosperity, by eradicating poverty, upgrading productivity, optimizing allocation and improving livelihood.

To this end, China is committed to building socialist democracy and rule of law, deepening reform and opening-up, strengthening legal establishment, improving governance system and capability, and imposing strict disciplines within the Party.

The central government is now preparing formulation of the 14th Five-Year Plan for Social and Economic Development that will cover the period from 2021 to 2025.

The Plan will focus on high quality development that hinges upon innovative industrialization, sustainable urbanization, green and inclusive development.

We will invest more in R&D to boost high-value sectors, such as digital manufacturing, telecommunication including 5G, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, aeronautics and astronautics, superconducting, just to name a few. We will advance low-carbon and recycling economy and promote utilization of renewable energy.

It is estimated that another 4-5 hundred million people will join the current 400 million middle-income group in the next 5 years.

Each time at the end of a five year plan, China takes on a new look. Back in 2015, I could not have imagined what China would look today. And I won't be surprised to find how limited my imagination is today by the year 2025.

As I said above, China will share growth opportunities with others. China's foreign policy is based on the idea of building a community of shared future for mankind.

China will further open its economy and welcome foreign business with lower tariff, shorter negative list, strengthened IPR protection and more transparent regulations. A recent survey by the Ministry of Commerce shows 99.1% of foreign companies in China will continue their operation and investment. At the same time, Chinese companies will continue to invest in overseas market, which is estimated 120-150 billion US dollars each year.

China will actively participate in international efforts for peacekeeping, anti-piracy, anti-terrorism, settlement of regional conflicts, and contribute to the global security of food, health, energy, cyberspace and outer space.

In the face of COVID-19, China fulfilled its duty earnestly as a member of WHO, donated 50 million dollars to the organization, committed 2 billion US dollars for international aid, and pledged vaccine from China for global public good.

China honors its obligations in international institutions and organizations. China is a member of more than 100 inter-governmental organizations and signatory to over 500 multilateral treaties. China does fully and faithfully implement every international legal instrument as signatory, including Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Having experienced 5000 years of incessant evolution and endured vicissitudes of glory and dismay, we the Chinese always adhere to a Confucian perspective of the nature of humans and the world, contrary to a Hobbesian one which is now overwhelming certain part of the world and some political figures.

We have confidence in harmony based on convergence, unity based on diversity, righteousness based on commitment, equality based on mutuality. We know that "Beggar thy Neighbor" won't work. Common prosperity will last. Monopoly or supremacy won't conquer. Benevolence and justice will prevail.

Twenty years into the century, the world is facing unexpected challenges including COVID-19, economic pressure, social rupture and partisan schemes towards schism and confrontation. What kind of world we will leave to next generation in another twenty years depends on how we work together to constrain the impact of challenges and expand the profit from opportunities. As comprehensive strategic partners, China and Australia shoulder special responsibilities.

Keep your eyes on the sun and you will not see the shadows. This is the Australian saying President Xi quoted 6 years ago in Canberra.

In 1963, Professor Wilbur Christiansen from the University of Sydney ventured into China and helped our national astronomical observatory to build its first radio telescope of 9-meters diameter, which is the precursor of the Sky Eye in Guizhou province, now the world's largest single-dish telescope of 500-meters diameter. Professor Christiansen saw the sunshine on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

In March this year, Mr. Jack Ma donated 2.15 million Australian dollars to the Peter Doherty Institute in Melbourne for the purpose of early discovery of a coronavirus vaccine. Papa Alibaba sees the sunshine of shared human destiny breaking through the cloud of ideological paranoia, which we believe will be blown away with the strong breath of history.

We should not let cold heart and dark mind cast shadow over our partnership. We should not let narrow interest and myopic view misguide our exchange and interaction. We should not let outdated stereotype and plotted distortion mould our understanding of each other and the world. We should not let empty slogans and willful branding dictate our narratives of bilateral relationship. We should not let our younger generation be swathed in belligerency and deprivation of progressive thinking and inclusive society.

We must make our partnership work for our people, for our children and for the world.

Thank you.

***************************************************************************************************************

Q&A Transcript

SABRA LANE: Thank you Minister Wang for that speech. The ambassador warned in April that Australia's pursuit of an independent inquiry into the cause of the coronavirus could spark a Chinese boycott of Australian goods, of wine, beef and barley. He also mentioned that students may not want to come to Australia anymore. Since that quote, those things have come to pass in some form; exports are now dealing with new tariffs or they're facing new investigations. It's been described- one minister said it was economic coercion, others have described it as bullying. I would like your response to that.

WANG XINING: Well, I know some press have the report on some of the trade issues between China and Australia. There are one anti-dumping issue concerning wine, and one anti-subsidy issue concerning barley. For beef, there are other technical reasons for this issue. But as far as I know, there has been more than a hundred anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases launched by Australian companies to the Australian Government. Now, ten concerning aluminum, steel and copper products are still pending. If you interpret it as an economic coercion from Chinese Government, I hope you could ask the Australia Government whether it's a hundred-fold or at least ten fold's economic coercion from the Australian Government.

But I would like to say something about this proposal of independent international review, because people talk about it. People don't- I know people don't understand why the Chinese Government and the Chinese people don't like this idea. Actually, it is very clear that the Chinese Government and the Chinese people is opposed to the proposal by the Australian Government about the independent international review. To understand this, we need to put this issue back to the context of late April. The reason as follow: first, we believe this proposal was targeted against China alone, because during that time Australian ministers claimed that the virus originated from Wuhan, from China. And they did not pinpoint any other places as a possible origin, possible source. So China, we believe, was singled out for the review. We don't think it is fair.

Secondly, it's ruled out the involvement of WHO, which we believe is the most authoritative and reliable international institution in terms of medical issues. An Australian minister described WHO as a poacher turning gamekeeper. So, we don't agree with that.

The third reason is it happened at a time when the United States Government was trying all out to blame China for their failure of control, the spread of the disease, and the sharp rise of the cases, and trying to pass the buck and shirk the responsibility. So, the proposal came at a time when the US was trying to do that, so the proposal would help Washington to put more pressures on China.

Fourthly, Australia Government never consulted the Chinese Government in whatever way before the proposal came out. We don't think it conforms to the spirit of comprehensive, strategic partnership, and it lacks the- least courtesy and diplomacy. But everybody needs to know the reason of this COVID-19. Chinese people also want to know, but the purpose to know the reason is not to put blame on a place or on the people or on the authority where they were first identified and reported. The purpose should be to get people better prepared for a future medical outbreak, but- so that is why China supports wholeheartedly the WHO operation. Also, we participate intensively in the consultation which led to a resolution of the 73rd WHA session. I brought a copy with me here. It's- you could easily download it from internet. And on the final page, there is a paragraph about the evaluation, which the Australian Government believe is identical to the review.

So, briefly, this resolution entrusted the Director-General of WHO to initiate a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation to review experiences gained and lessons learned from WHO coordinated international health response to COVID-19, and make recommendations to improve global pandemic prevention, preparedness and response capacities. There's not a single word about origin or source on this page. So, we believe this resolution comes from an entirely different origin from the proposal the Australian Government put forward. And my colleague participated in the negotiation in Geneva, and so did our diplomatic colleague from the Australian Government. They will be able to tell you how the three words - impartial, independent, comprehensive - come from. It is not from the Australian Government.

So, we believe this resolution is not targeted exclusively against any country, not guided towards digging the origin of the virus only. And it also entrusts WHO to direct the whole- the entire work of evaluations. So, this is fair, this is useful. This is non-discriminatory. But more importantly, it hurts the feelings of the Chinese people. [Indistinct] It was April the 18th or the 19th the proposal came out. That was only about 10 days after the lifting of restriction of the lockdown measures in Wuhan.

Finally, our people back in China thought they were able to take a breath because they were under huge pressure. In the first three months, they sacrificed a lot. They sacrificed economically, and they sacrificed for their pattern of life. All of a sudden, there heard this shocking news of a proposal coming from Australia, which is supposed to be a good friend of China, it has always been. So, if you- I know the language is a problem, but if you are able read Chinese blogs, Chinese websites and even the comments on the blog, including the blog of your embassy in Beijing, you will be able to know the intensity of emotion of our people, how much indignation, anger and frustration they expressed. They used a lot of Chinese idioms and sayings to describe the emotion, but it is difficult to translate. I think it's approximately identical to Julius Caesar in his final day when he saw Brutus approaching him: et tu, brute?

SABRA LANE: Thank you for that very comprehensive answer. I remind journalists, one question per person, please state your name and the organisation you're with. Annika Smethurst.

QUESTION: Annika Smethurst from the Sunday Telegraph. Thanks for your address. I wanted to pick up on something you touched on in the speech. There's been reports recently that China will offer early access to any successful vaccine to countries of strategic interest. And I just wondered, if China is successful in developing a vaccine, how will it be prioritised? And is China going to use a COVID-19 vaccine for diplomacy?

WANG XINING: Well, as far as I know, Chinese Government authorised a development- research and development of nine vaccines. Two of them already finished the second phase of clinical study. The research and development of vaccines is under a very strict, very standardised & science-based procedure, which includes safety tests, effective evaluation, and also ethic review. We will fulfil our commitment. We will honour our obligations, as President Xi said during the WHA session. We will make it a public good. But we need to make sure that it is very safe, it is very secure when it is applied. There are already cases of emergency use in China. So, it is also being scrutinised with all regulatory and legal restrictions and demand. So… I think people need vaccines. People need medicines. People want to go back to their normal life. So, we need to negotiate and have consultations with other countries to see how this public goods will be applied to people around the world. I hope the earlier, the better. Bless the people around the world. Thank you very much.

SABRA LANE: Chris Uhlmann.

QUESTION: Minister, Chris Uhlmann, Nine News. Just to clarify something you said earlier, did the coronavirus, which is currently infecting the world, come from China? If it didn't, you talked about two or three other places. Where, given it's so infectious, could it credibly have come from apart from China? You talked about the feelings of the Chinese people. Given their health has been affected and their economy trashed, you understand the Australian people's feelings might be hurt, and the rest of the world, and they have a right to know where it comes from.

WANG XINING: Yes. I think it's up to the scientists to find out the origin, and also how it has been dealt with by different governments. And… well, I would like to call your attention to what has been said by Mr Michael Ryan. He is Executive Director of WHO Health Emergency Program. He said recently that patient zero is not necessarily found among the first cluster of coronavirus cases. So what I mean is, this time, this virus was first identified in China and first reported in China, and we did what we could to provide to WHO and to other governments what we have in order to prevent further damage to the other countries. And… But, you know, we are a country famous for strict discipline. So we managed to control the virus. If you calculate from the turn of the year, to 8 April, when the lockdown of Wuhan was lifted, that signify that the epidemic in China was basically under control, it was roughly 100 days, and it takes 100 days for another major country, for the cases to rise from zero to a million. So it's not the problem of the medical capacity of humankind. We are entirely able to do that. The problem is the way we treat this virus and the efficiency of good governance and medical deployment. Thank you.

SABRA LANE: To be clear, you're saying it didn't originate in Wuhan?

WANG XINING: We should leave the work to scientists.

SABRA LANE: Kieran Gilbert.

QUESTION: Thanks Sabra. Minister, thanks for your speech. Kieran from Sky News. You spoke about the strength of the- or the strategic partnership, the comprehensive strategic partnership. The Prime Minister talks about that a lot as well. But when our ministers in the Cabinet can't contact their counterparts in Beijing, there's no contact happening, isn't that strategic partnership very weak, it's diminished by that fact? You spoke about keep your eyes on the sun and you will not see the shadows, is the Chinese Government looking at the shadows at the moment? They're not taking calls from our ministers.

WANG XINING: I think- frankly, there are some shadows, I think, over here about our relationship. So we need to make our position much more clear in order to remove these shadows and let the sun shine in our relationship. And, you know, under COVID-19, it's not possible to organise face-to-face exchange between leaders of countries and even senior ministers. But the diplomatic channel to China is always open. We have issues. I keep in contact with my counterpart and so are my colleague with other portfolio. The diplomats are always talking. It is easy for us to talk about the issues. There's no block in between. Thank you.

SABRA LANE: Andrew Probyn.

QUESTION: Deputy Ambassador, Andrew Probyn from the ABC. I want to ask you about your defence of Chinese socialism. At one point you said, and pardon me if I quote you incorrectly, you said that modern capitalism survives as an outcome of gradual incorporation of socialist elements. I think it's fair to say that the West, since Deng Xiaoping in the late 70s, has assumed that the more exposure China had to the West, it would democratise. I think they started to rethink that with Xi Jinping. Is your speech here today telling us that firstly China is not going to change and that the West should become more like China?

WANG XINING: No, no, no. We- you know our policy is we never interfere into others'internal affairs and we're… We're not imposing anything onto other country. We're not changing Australia to be a People's Republic of Australia. We're not trying to replace your parliament system with a presidential system. We're not asking Hungary Jacks to sell Chinese dumplings.

You have your way to do everything. And let me say, would you like to- sorry to keep you standing but I like to say a few words about democracy. We don't believe democracy is a synchronical term. It must be a diachronical term because there has never been a single format of diplomacy all around the world and all across the- all along the history and all across the world. Given my humble knowledge, I understand Plato, in his time, put aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy ahead of democracy. And we shall not forget that it was during Weimar diplomacy that NSDAP was voted into power, and I don't believe the states of democracy were the same before and after this country abandoned the white Australia policy. It's totally different.

So, we need to take into consideration all the intrinsic and components of democracy as well as the peripheral elements. So, I'm not in favour of an idea to juxtapose Western diplomacy with- sorry, Western democracy with other type of democracy by saying: mine is democracy and yours is not. I think it's a very narrow interpretation and it will make democracy, as a word, an empty political slogan and a very outworn political cliché. For me, it's even sacrilegious for such a lofty idea of mankind. Secondly, I think democracy is not the ends, it is the means. The ends is the people. So, we need to ask the people whether they are satisfied with the performance of the system, of a government to decide whether this democracy work.

So, I'd like to remind you the recent poll by Edelmann and by Ash Centre in the Harvard University. They all give Chinese government and Chinese system very high grade, over 90 per cent, but for some other country recently, the percentage of- the proportion of percentage turned upside down. So… and look at what today Chinese people live. Seven or eight months into this outbreak of COVID-19, our economy is picking up new momentum. The second quarter, the growth rate was 3.2 per cent. Our trade registered positive growth in June and we have fabulous PMI and CPI number. And also, the schools are open. The bars are open and also the gyms are open. So people are coming back to a normal life and they are able to join a large crowd of beer festival in Qingdao and music festival in Wuhan without worrying to be infected again. And if you look at some other country who claims to be the lantern of democracy, people suffer, people die and people are losing jobs. So, that's why we see, if a democracy fail to deliver to the people a quality life and hope of future and sense of security, even if it's not a fake or failed democracy, it is not a democracy on the par. It's under the par. That's my interpretation of democracy. Thank you very much for your patience.

SABRA LANE: Andrew Tillet.

QUESTION: Thanks Sabra. Andrew Tillet from the Australian Financial Review. Minister Wang, we've seen this week that China Mengniu has abandoned its bid for Lion Dairy this week after the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg indicated it wouldn't get foreign investment approval. What's your response to that? There's been some comments around that it's sort of a curious decision given that Lion Dairy is already foreign owned. And more broadly, do you believe that recent changes to the foreign investment regime here in Australia are aimed at, I guess, discriminating against Chinese companies and Chinese investment?

WANG XINING: Andrew, you know, we always respect the sovereignty of Australia. So the policy, certain policy is within the sovereign branch of the policy portfolio. You mentioned the dairy company, the name is Mengniu. Yeah, it means in Mongolia cow. It is sad for me that they won't be grazing on Australian pasture; I'm kidding. Of course, we're disappointed, because I said we hope Australia will provide a very fair, very open and non-discriminatory regulatory and policy environment to the Chinese enterprises. Because as far as I learned, all the previous investment from Chinese companies and the joint ventures or collaborations between Australian and Chinese companies benefit both sides. We hope this momentum will continue. And so we hope the Australian Government and relevant authorities will facilitate the investment and our companies in their operations here, and not to be swayed by some ill-founded accusations or alerts. Thank you very much.

SABRA LANE: Lanai Scarr.

QUESTION: Lanai Scarr from The West Australian newspaper. Thank you for your speech. Does China view its relationship with Western Australia as better or different to different parts of the country? And as a result, will the WA resources sector be spared from any future trade disputes like we have seen with regards to barley and wine?

WANG XINING: Again, the trade disputes will be dealt with through diplomatic and bilateral consultation and negotiations. There are standard procedures to follow because we are all members of WTO. We will handle these cases according to set procedures. We hope – and I talk about the 10 cases, the pending cases for Chinese companies. I think they are cooperating with Australian ministries to work a way out. We don't want to see a rising tendency of trade frictions, but when there are complaints from Chinese companies, from Chinese associations of business, the Government needs to deal with that. I don't think we discriminate between states and territories. They are all Australian states and territories, and they all are our Australian friends. We hope the friends will work with us to enliven and enhance the future growth of our economic tie and trade. Thank you very much.

SABRA LANE: Ben Packam.

QUESTION: Minister, Ben Packam from The Australian. A Texas University professor who had access to NASA secrets was just arrested in the US for hiding his affiliation with A Thousand Talents plan. Isn't this talent plan just a gigantic espionage scheme? And if it isn't, why are participants bound under their contracts to keep their participation secret?

WANG XINING: Ben, I saw the reports over the past few days on The Australian. It is mostly about science and technology cooperation. Some stories come from the United States, right? But I'm more concerned about our cooperation in the field of science and technology, because this is an integral part of our relationship. It has brought and will bring enormous good to our business, to our society and to our people. We have intergovernmental cooperation agreement and mechanism, so- and there are also agreements between research institutions. I think the scientist, scholars, and researchers are working together for scientific breakthrough, for technology progress, for the benefit of mankind. Everything goes between us along the bilateral agreements, in compliance with both Chinese and Australian law.

Again, I'd rather see the sunny side of our co-operation in technology and science. I'll give you two examples. There's one program called Australian-China Joint Research Centre for Wheat Improvement, which made impressive progress in improving the amount of grain protein content. So that works out to enhance the marketability of the most important –one of the most important agricultural produce in Australia.

Another one is by the University of New South Wales. They produce a graphene-enhanced high performance electricity grid transmission line; it's long. The university's signed a $20 million agreement with one Chinese company called Hangzhou Cable. It will boost the transmission by 5 per cent. It may sound not very big, but if this technology is applied to our national grid, it will save the energy that's equivalent to electricity generation for the whole of Australia. So for me, this joint effort is not only about business, it's not only about profit, it's about China and Australia could work together to contribute to the current campaign against climate change.

And I also - I think, you mention about the program. I know there is a - what we call Australia's Global Talent Independent program, which is hosted by the Home Affairs, I believe. And they have offices in Shanghai, and are also recruiting Chinese scholars for research in Australia. And it's up to the scientists to decide where to work, who to collaborate, and who to marketise [sic] their future result of the research.

So, Ben, I hate this division of labour, because we – the diplomats, the scientists, are trying very hard to spread sunshine over our relationship, and some of your colleagues are trying to cast a shadow. I really hate this division of labour. And let's focus on the bright side of our relationship and work out a solution for the problem that exists. Thank you very much.

SABRA LANE: Ben, did you get an answer to that?

QUESTION: Well, I don't think the Minister said why the participants weren't allowed to disclose their participation, and whether the scheme amounts to espionage?

WANG XINING: I'm not aware of – because, the embassy- since I came over a year ago, the embassy has always been approached by The Australian and other media to ask some questions which, for me, is quite whimsical and absurd, because it's based on hearsay, it's based on gossip. I have no idea about that. I'm so sorry about that.

SABRA LANE: Eryk Bagshaw.

QUESTION: Minister, Eryk Bagshaw from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Thanks very much for your speech. China's foreign ministers and trade ministers have spoken with France, Japan, Germany, the European Union, the United Kingdom since June. Like Australia, all of those countries have condemn China's actions in Hong Kong, the South China Sea, resisted the implementation of Huawei in their 5G networks, and supported the establishment of an independent inquiry into the coronavirus. Overnight, the Trade Minister spoke with the US administration. The US administration has labelled the coronavirus the China virus. In this context, why has Australia been singled out for special treatment as the only country to have several trade strikes and have diplomatic contact at the highest levels frozen? Is Australia speaking out of term and is China making an example out of Australia to other middle powers?

SABRA LANE: I think there's about six questions in there, but go for it.

WANG XINING: I already said that the diplomatic channels are open, and our policy towards Australia have never changed. We wish to have a very sound and stable relationship that will work to benefit our peoples, to benefit our countries. And we hope that both sides would work in the same direction and the line with the spirit of the comprehensive strategic partnership. That's it. Thank you.

SABRA LANE: So Australia hasn't been singled out?

WANG XINING: I beg your pardon?

SABRA LANE: Australia hasn't been singled out?

WANG XINING: No. Singled out for what?

QUESTION: Given in that context, all those other countries who have the same position as Australia, yet Australia is the only one to have no communication or to have to trade strikes launched against it.

WANG XINING: [Talks over] Oh yeah, yeah. We made representations with our counterparts in DFAT and in different ministries to express our concern and our objections, our opposition to some of the measures and some of the policies adopted, enacted by relevant ministries and authorities. This is a diplomacy. This works out very nicely. Thank you.

QUESTION: Yeah. So are you sending a message to other middle powers to not speak up against the might of China in that way?

WANG XINING: I think it's a very lopsided interpretation of what happened between us. Of course, we're not happy with the issues you mentioned. If I have more time, I will explain in detail. But we made our representations, we made Australian Government well aware of what the differences are, and we made clear to our counterparts that we should work together to enhance the efficiency and the profitability of bilateral collaboration on whatever field. Thank you.

SABRA LANE: Claire Armstrong.

QUESTION: Thanks. Claire Armstrong from the Daily Telegraph. Thanks, Minister. I'm interested in your response to critics of soft diplomacy programs like the Belt and Road Initiative, Confucius classrooms, who argue that it's a way for China to unduly influence foreign nations or project a certain narrative of China, and if you reject those assertions, how can China prove they're not true, given the difficulty in proving a negative in this case?

WANG XINING: You mentioned Belt and Road Initiative...

QUESTION: And Confucius classrooms.

WANG XINING: And Confucius Institute. The abbreviation is BRI. So it's one of the biggest international public good China provided to the world, and it has now become the biggest platform for international co-operation. So there has been 138 countries and 30 international organisations who signed 199 co-operation agreements with China. So, our idea is this initiative should be an open one, inclusive one and transparent one. We hope by enhance the connectivity in the fields of policy orientation, trade, finance, infrastructure building, and also people to people exchange, the countries that participated in this initiative will benefit from it, because it's already six years since the inception of this incentive. The trade volume already exceeded US$6 trillion. It works out fantastically for those who participated in it. And we're not dominating this. We based this initiative on the basis of shared planning, shared construction, and shared dividend.

Confucius Institute, I don't see any difference. It's between Confucius Institute and the Goethe Institute, Alliance Francaise and Institute Cervantes. They are all same. They are all aimed at language and cultural exchange. And it's very clear, as I said in my speech, the policy of non-interference into other country's internal affairs is a perennial principle of our foreign policy since the start, since the beginning of the People's Republic of China.

But Miss, if I may, there's a strong distinction between the word interference and word influence. For me, from etymological point of view, influence carries a neutral meaning. It means a natural flow of exchange and contact with mutual effect. So I don't think China will register such quick development if we don't accept, absorb some foreign influence and I don't think Australia will enjoy today's economic affluence, cultural diversity and intellectual richness without accepting some foreign influence from outside this continent. We have become so close; we are your biggest trade partner. So it is natural that people are more and more acquainted with fresh ideas and views from the other side, and also the way of seeing and doing things. But I think people are smart enough to decide what influence is good and worth conceding and what is bad and must be fended off. The key is we do not impose one's idea onto the other and say only mine is right, and yours is wrong.

And I know some people do not like some of the ideas from China and Chinese people. Even if it's the mainstream thinking of my people and Chinese expats all around the world, particularly those on political and social structure. It's our people's choice. But I think they can be faithfully and candidly presented to the Australian public. It will not affect Australians' own choice of your political and your social structure, I don't see any reason for whining about your constitutional fragility and your intellectual vulnerability. We will promote such exchange. Understanding China better will not undermine Australia's future. Thank you.

SABRA LANE: Minister, we're almost at time. You're happy for a couple of more questions?

WANG XINING: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Peter Van Onselen for Network Ten. A couple of my colleagues have had a go at this question. So I'll hope for third time lucky. You talked in your speech about the importance of respect and goodwill. What is the point of a strategy partnership if no Australian minister can get a phone call returned?

WANG XINING: I don't think we have received any requests for a phone call. I'm speaking on behalf of the embassy. I don't know whether your embassy in Beijing forwarded this request to their counterparts. But as far as I know, I'm the second man in the embassy. I received a phone call from one of your ministers, several months ago, talking about the trade issue. And if we receive a request, it will be done in a very diplomatic way, through diplomatic channel.

QUESTION: I mean minister to minister though. If they can't get a phone call returned, how is that respect and goodwill?

WANG XINING: We respect each other. It must be done in a standard diplomatic way. The reason I mention about- I talked so much about the review thing, is we need diplomacy to work. We need diplomacy, multilateral, bilateral to work. As in the WHO Assembly. Thank you very much.

SABRA LANE: Final question. Tim Lester.

QUESTION: Minister Wang, Tim Lester from the 7 Network. China has been quite an issue in the US presidential election so far. Just as China-Australia relations have been sinking. How much do you think the problems with Australia-China relations actually reflect US politics, US election politics, particularly, and Australia's tendency to listen to the US as a security partner? And how much do you think Australia-China relations might improve after the vote in early November?

WANG XINING: Well, we never comment on the elections of any other country, United States, France, Germany, Venezuela, no, we don't do that. Because that would equal to interfering in other's internal affairs. And we deal our bilateral relationship with Australia on its own merit. We wish to have a good, sound, stable relationship. And we respect the traditional relationship between Australia and the United States. You were allies during the war. But China was your ally during the war, the Second World War. And to have an alley is not a problem. The problem is whether you target the third party with the strength of your alliance. This is what we do not agree. If we find any tendency to use the strength of alliance to strike China down, or to press China down, like what currently some of the US politicians are doing, then we will express clearly our opposition and our position. Thank you very much.

SABRA LANE: Everybody, please join me in thanking minister Wang Xining.

[Applause]

 

Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Commonwealth of Australia
Address: 15 Coronation Drive, Yarralumla, ACT 2600
Tel: 0061-2-62283999, Fax: 0061-2-62283836
E-mail: chinaemb_au@mfa.gov.cn
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Commonwealth of Australia All Rights Reserved