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Australia and China: A Strong and Stable Partnership for the 21st Century

Speech made by Kevin Rudd - Australian Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security at The Central Party School of the Communist Party of China, Beijing - 1 July 2004 (Transcipt )

Thank you for the invitation to address the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China.

This school has played an important role in the modern history of China.

It is one hundred years ago this year that the Chinese Imperial Government abolished the imperial examination system.

In the one hundred years since then, the preoccupation of all Chinese reformers has been the identification, selection and cultivation of talented individuals dedicated to the economic and political transformation of China.

This school forms part of that tradition – and from within its faculty have come many of those who have led the domestic economic reforms of the last quarter century, together with reforms leading to China's opening to the outside world.

The challenges this school will face over the next quarter century will be even greater as China develops as a great power and plays an increasingly important regional and global role.

I began my studies of China back in 1976 when I enrolled as an undergraduate in the Department of Chinese at the Australian National University.

Little did I know then that 1976 would prove to be such a momentous year in modern Chinese history. The death of Zhou Enlai. The death of Mao Zedong. The purge of the Gang of Four.

The course that I studied combined modern Chinese, classical Chinese, Chinese history, Chinese philosophy and Chinese literature.

It took five years. When I began, we studied "Da Zhai" and "Da Qing". By third year we were studying Deng Xiaoping's dictum "seek truth from facts" and "practice is the only criterion for truth". And by the time I graduated, we had advanced to critical discussions of "the reform of the economic system". It was, indeed, an interesting time to be studying China.

When I came to China to work for the first time twenty years ago, back in 1984, the Party was preparing for the third plenum of the twelfth Central Committee – the plenum which undertook reforms in agriculture and applied the principles of reform to the entire economic system. These were courageous and far-sighted decisions taken by the Party's leadership at a time when the country was still throwing off the ideological shackles of the Cultural Revolution.

In the intervening twenty years, I've been back to China many, many times - as a diplomat, as a state government official, as a businessman, as a Member of Parliament, now as the alternative Foreign Minister of Australia.

I have been here both in good times and in difficult times, like May of 1989.

I like China. I like its people. I admire the achievements of its extraordinary civilisation. And unlike some, I am an optimist – not a pessimist – about China's future.

For the history now being written in this country will form a large part of the history of all humankind this century.

And it is, therefore, a chapter in which the rest of humankind has a great interest.

Role of the CPC

This year the Communist Party of China is 83 years old.

A couple of months ago I was in Shanghai and took my son, who is studying Chinese at Fudan University, to the modest building where the Chinese Communist Party held its first National Congress in 1921.

From modest beginnings, to the party that has grown to a total membership of around 70 million.

During those 83 years, it is a Party which has seen civil war, the war of resistance against Japan, the disasters of the 'Great Leap Forward' and the Cultural Revolution, and now a period of unprecedented unity and prosperity.

Adjusting the Party to the ideological, political, economic and international circumstances of the last quarter century has been an arduous task.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, the proper role of state-owned enterprises in the modern Chinese economy, the relationship between Party and State and the continuing process of constitutional, political and legal reform have together presented significant challenges.

And the achievements, thus far, have also been equally significant.

Australian Labor Party

We in this delegation come from one of the oldest, continuing social democratic parties in the world.

The Australian Labor Party was founded in 1891 as a result of large scale, industrial action by rural and urban workers across Australia.

We are about as old as the German Social Democratic Party. And we are considerably older than the British Labor Party.

We are a Party rich in political history having been the governing Party nationally for one third of the last century and at the State level (there are six states in Australia) for more than one half of the last century.

We are the Social Democratic Party which, in Australia and in much of the western social democratic world, pioneered fundamental social reforms in the first half of the last century. These included workers compensation insurance, aged pensions and widows' pensions.

And in the last quarter century, we have been the Party which reformed, modernised and internationalised the Australian economy – reforms which enabled the Australian economy to survive robustly the impact of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98.

And we also believe that we are on the verge of forming government again in Australia in our upcoming national elections, which are due within the next several months.

Labor's relationship with China

The Australian Labor movement is made up of two wings: the Australian Labor Party and the Australian trade union movement.

The Australian trade union movement first became engaged with China's cause back in the 1930s and 40s following the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. It was during this period that Australia's representatives on the International Labour Organisation in Geneva led a campaign of international industrial action against Japanese shipping around the world – in protest against Japanese aggression towards China.

In 1949, when the Peoples Republic of China was proclaimed, the Australian Labor Party was in power in Canberra under Labor Prime Minister Chifley. The then Australian Labor Government made preparations to extend diplomatic recognition to the new government of China towards the end of 1949. Unfortunately, during the general elections of November 1949, the Labor Party was defeated – and remained out of office for the next 23 years.

For the following 23 years, successive conservative governments of Australia maintained diplomatic relations with the Nationalist government of Taiwan – until 1972 when the Australian Labor Party was finally returned to political power. In one of its first decisions, Labor Prime Minister Whitlam extended diplomatic political recognition to the PRC – diplomatic recognition based on a firm commitment to the principles of the One China policy.

During the 1980s, the Hawke Labor Government developed a closer relationship with the China at multiple levels. It was during this period that Prime Minister Hawke and his Chinese counterparts brought about the first Chinese resource investment abroad – the Channar Iron Ore Mine in Western Australia.

Back in the 1980s, Labor Prime Minister Hawke began outlining a long-term vision for the future of the Australia-China relationship based on the strongest levels of economic cooperation between the two countries.

This vision was sustained during the 1990s under Labor Prime Minister Keating who sought to deepen and broaden Australia's bilateral relationship with China – as well as enhance China's multilateral engagement with the region through APEC.

As a party, therefore, the Australian Labor Party has always placed a strong priority on Australia's relationship with China. It has a long history. We also believe it will have a long future.

Foreign Policy and the Australian Labor Party

The Australian Labor Party's approach to foreign policy is based on the three fundamental pillars:

  • our membership of the United Nations;
  • our alliance with the United States; and
  • our policy of comprehensive engagement in Asia.

Australia, under a Labor Government, was an active participant in the San Francisco Conference in 1945 which shaped both the UN Charter and the UN Organisation. Since that time, successive Australian Labor Governments have attached great priority to the role of the UN multilateral system. This was a fundamental reason for the Australian Labor Party's recent opposition to the decision by the United States to participate in the military invasion of Iraq.

The second pillar of the foreign policy of the Australian Labor Party is our alliance with the United States. As with our membership of the United Nations, our alliance with the United States was forged by the Australian Labor Government during World War II. In those days, Australia, like China, was at war with Japan. And it was the United States which came to our military assistance and helped prevent a Japanese invasion of Australia. For these and other continuing strategic reasons, Australia's alliance with the United States continues to have strong support from the Australian people – despite recent disagreements between the alternative government of Australia and the Bush administration on the question of Iraq.

The third pillar of Australian Labor Party foreign policy is our policy of comprehensive engagement with Asia. We believe that Australia's economic, political and strategic future is intimately tied up with the future of our own region. And it is for these reasons that successive Australian Labor Governments have sought to develop the best possible bilateral political relationships with regional countries, as well as developing multilateral regional relationships through APEC, aimed at regional trade liberalisation, and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which is aimed at creating a regional security dialogue across the disparate countries of the region. For Australia, China is at the core of our policy of comprehensive regional engagement.

China and Multilateralism

Australia has a fundamental interest in working closely with China in the evolution of the multilateral, rules-based order – in relation to global security, the global economic and, of course, the global environment.

China is seeking to play a more active role in international affairs. From our perspective, this is a welcome development.

We particularly welcome China's engagement with the United States in the War against Terrorism aimed at eliminating al Qaeda, Jeemah Islamiah and other associated terrorist organisations. Terrorism knows no geographical boundaries. Together with China, we also face a common challenge in eliminating international sources of terrorist financing – in particular the resurgence of the opium crop in Afghanistan, which the United Nations estimates is worth US$2.6 billion per year.

An Australian Labor Government would also look forward to working with China in the United Nations – particularly in the reform of the Security Council and the international community's response to the Expert Panel established by the United Nations Secretary General which will report to next year's General Assembly.

Australia and China also have an interest in working together in the World Trade Organisation, as both our countries and economies are the beneficiaries of a liberalised multilateral trading system. China's prosperity and Australia's prosperity depend fundamentally on global trade liberalisation. If the world were to break up into protectionist blocs or retreat into national protectionist regimes, the economic and strategic consequences for us all would be disastrous.

Australia and China also share an interest in the revitalisation of APEC in order to accelerate regional trade liberalisation and facilitation here in the most dynamic economic region in the world.

China and the region

Here within the region, China should be commended for the constructive role it has played in hosting the Six Party Talks on North Korea. This is a complex and difficult diplomatic exercise. And while no resolution is immediately in sight, the fact that negotiations are occurring is far better than the alternative.

The continued normalisation of China's relationship with Japan is also important for the security and stability of the wider region.

Japan will continue to be the world's second largest economy for the next decade and a half and the region's largest economy.

The interdependencies between our three economies (Japan, China and Australia) are also an important factor for the future.

In this connection, good relationships between Beijing, Tokyo and Canberra are of the highest importance.

China is also playing an increasingly active role in South East Asia – both bilaterally and through the ASEAN Plus Three arrangement.

Australia has a close political and economic relationship with South East Asia which we would like to improve in the future. An incoming Australian Labor Government would look forward to the closest negotiations with our friends in North East Asia and South East Asia about the future shape of the region's broader economic architecture.

Australia notes with satisfaction the recent normalisation of China's relationship with India. We believe this is good for strategic stability. It is also good for the wider region's prosperity given the role which India will play, together with China and Japan, in the long-term economic growth of the region.

A continuing danger to strategic stability in East Asia and the West Pacific is the current state of relations across the Taiwan Straits. As noted previously, Australia and most regional states are committed to the principle of the One China policy. That has not changed. And it will not change.

I have noted carefully China's reaction to the recent "presidential elections" in Taiwan. Just as I have also noted carefully American reactions to those developments and the influence which the United States has brought to bear on Taiwan since the elections.

Australia does not believe that the interests of regional stability are served by any moves towards Taiwanese independence.  We have also made this plain to the Taiwanese authorities.

At the same time we believe that restraint is required all-round so that the continued development of people-to-people links, cultural and economic links can assist over time in bringing a negotiated solution to this problem left over from history.

In this context, the upcoming Beijing Olympics in 2008 may present great opportunities for the Chinese Government.

The worst-case scenario for China, the United States and the Asia Pacific Region is for tensions across the Taiwan Straits to result in armed conflict.

Nobody within this region wants Taiwan to become the Sarajevo of the 21 st century.

If we are to learn from Europe's failures from the last century, diplomatic solutions must be found for our own region. And to that end, we in Australia always stand ready to assist in whichever way the parties may deem to be appropriate.

Bilateral cooperation

China has recently dispatched a new ambassador to Australia – Ambassador Fu Ying - who in the three short months that she has been in our country has been active in her negotiations with state and federal governments on where to take our bilateral relationship during the 21 st century.

Ambassador Fu has outlined areas of potential, long-term cooperation between China and Australia. These include:

  • The energy and resources sector where Australia is well endowed and where China has long-term unmet demand in order to satisfy its requirements for long-term economic growth;
  • Agriculture and agricultural technologies where Australia remains a world leader and where China can benefit from Australia's longstanding excellence;
  • Science and technology, in particular biotechnology, where Australia's biotechnology research centres are world leaders;
  • Environmental management, where China's needs are once again great and where Australia has particular expertise to bring to bear, particularly in terms of waste water treatment; and
  • Education, where English language education, as well as education in business, economics and the full range of the sciences are all readily available. And all, more or less, within the same time zone as China. And considerably more affordable than that provided by the United States and the United Kingdom for Chinese students studying abroad. We already have 80,000 Chinese students studying in Australia.

I'd like to commend Ambassador Fu for her work in Australia in seeking to develop long-term government to government cooperative frameworks in each of these sectors.

For our part, as the alternative government of Australia, we would like to develop a 25-year long strategy in the energy and resources sector between our two countries.

Australia provided energy and resources security to Japan to underpin that country's economic recovery and development during the 50s, 60s and 70s. We believe we can do the same again for China – for which the recent LNG project with Australia should be seen as a precursor.

Australia also looks forward to the conclusion of the bilateral scoping study being undertaken concerning a possible Free Trade Agreement between our two countries.  Multilateral trade liberalisation through the WTO remains critical. As do further trade liberalisation and trade facilitation efforts through APEC. But we should also explore creatively what we can do to enhance our growing trade through this bilateral scoping study as well.

China's development challenges

We fully recognise that China's path to economic development may not be smooth.

We recognise the enormous challenges for those responsible for China's economic management in generating growth in the economy each year in excess of 8 per cent in order to generate the employment opportunities necessary to provide jobs for the unemployed – and for those newly emerging into the labour market.

We also recognise the challenges China faces in terms of regional equity – a policy of opening up the country's west so that it can catch up with the economic development which is already being achieved in the central and coastal provinces.

I've already referred to energy security in the context of the bilateral relationship with Australia. But plainly, long-term, secure external sources of energy supply from Central Asia, the Russian Federation, from offshore platforms as well as Australia, will be necessary in order to meet the future demands of the Chinese economy.

Sustainable development, environmental management and the proper management of water resources, in particular, present large challenges for China's planners in the future.

As does the proper provision of social security in an age of profound demographic change arising from the One Child policy.

China, therefore, faces many opportunities – as well as many challenges.

Good friends of China, like Australia, would like to work with you on both the opportunities and the challenges.

Our interest in China is not just driven by export dollars. It is also driven by our deep desire to see China succeed overall.

Because China's success is important not just for the Chinese people, its success is important for all of us.


More than six centuries ago, the famous Chinese navigator Xheng He explored much of the Asia Pacific region as well as the Indian Ocean.

During this period, China was the beneficiary of open economic engagement with the rest of the world.

The best periods in China's history have been those where China has been open to the rest of the world – good for China, and good for the world.

The history of our current century is still being written.

We do not know how this Asian Century will turn out.

There is a script for prosperity and peace.

There is a script based on open markets.

And a script based on cooperative solutions to longstanding security problems.

There are alternative scripts as well – based on protectionism, armed conflict as well as a disregard for global, sustainable development.

As with all the large decisions in human history, the decisions lie with us.

Australia stands ready to work with China in constructing a peaceful, prosperous and environmentally sustainable Asia Pacific Century.

A strong, stable and secure partnership between Australia and China for the 21 st century will be good for China, good for Australia, good for the region and good for the world.
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