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China's rise and the changing Asia-Pacific

Chen Yuming, China's ambassador to Australia, discusses relations with Australia and the United States

China's rapid rise to superpower status has upset long standing assumptions of many of the nations of the Asia-Pacific.

For example, for the first time Australia's number one customer is not its most important ally.

This has led senior Chinese officials to ask pointed questions of Australian ministers about the ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States) alliance and about Canberra's increasing military co-operation with Washington.

China's ambassador to Australia is Chen Yuming. He's speaking with Jim Middleton.
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: Ambassador, it's good to talk to you again.


JIM MIDDLETON: This year marks the 40th anniversary of bilateral relations between Australia and China. Do you think back then anyone could have imagined just how dependent on each other the two nations would become to underwrite their prosperity?

CHEN YUMING: Thank you very much for your question there. It's for me a big challenge to answer your question because the 40th anniversary is a great event for us, for both countries and for both peoples.

(Translation): I should say the 40th anniversary is an important opportunity for our two countries and two peoples to further grow our relations. It is also an event for us to celebrate together.

As you rightly pointed out, 40 years ago noone had expected China Australia relations to develop so strong and to have brought about common prosperity to our two countries. When our father's generation came to Australia for a visit and signed the first trade agreement between our two countries, the bilateral trade volume between us was less than $100 million Australian. Now it is over $110 billion, an increase of 1,000 times. And that is only one small aspect of the achievements we have scored.

So we are seeing increasingly closer exchanges between our two countries in such fields as political relations, economy, trade, culture, education, etc. And we are expecting even brighter future in our bilateral relations in the next four decades.

JIM MIDDLETON: On the basis of what you said I wonder if I could ask you this then: can Australia continue to have its most important economic relationship with China and its most important strategic relationship with the United States? I have seen commentary in China suggesting that this is unbalanced, unfair and in the end unsustainable.

CHEN YUMING (translation): I think we should see this issue this way: China and Australia have established comprehensive and cooperative relations. We have close ties not only on the economic front but also in many other areas and such relationship is continuing to grow. So I don't think we should say that relations between China and Australia is unbalanced, and the only thing we need to do is to make our bilateral relationship more comprehensive and develop our relations in various sectors.

JIM MIDDLETON: If you think that Australia and Chinese relations are comprehensive, cooperative, why then is China so concerned apparently about Australia's military links with the United States, especially the decision to base US Marines in Darwin? It is an issue that gets raised with Australian ministers whenever they talk to their Chinese counterparts.

CHEN YUMING (translation): I think your question has touched upon an issue of strategic relations. We do believe that the relationship between China and Australia is of strategic significance. The interactions and the exchanges between our two sides in the political, economic, cultural and other sectors are leading our relations to long term and sustainability development. And in this way, as we have seen it, our relations have a quite strategic significance. So long as we build our relations on the basis of the consensus reached between our two leaders; so long as we continue to grow our relations through closer cooperation, by enhancing mutual trust and mutual respect, our relations will enjoy sustainable development in the future.

I think China Australia as well as other countries in the Asia Pacific region should conform with this global trend. And peace, developments and the cooperation should be the common goals of our efforts. And only by achieving this goal can we serve the interests of the people better, can we serve the welfare of the future generations better.

JIM MIDDLETON: Turning to another subject, China would like to invest more in Australia. But do you think, does Beijing think, that Australia applies different standards to Chinese investments, that there's one rule for the United States and Europe and another rules or set of rules for China?

CHEN YUMING (translation): The issue of Chinese enterprises investment in Australia has become a hot topic and I think it is not hot enough. Why do I say so? Because China's investment in Australia is still small in terms of numbers. Although the amounts of our investments in this country has been increasing in recent years. it is still a small number and accounts for only 2 to 3 per cent of the total overseas investment in Australia; approximately the same percentage as Luxembourg.

Australia has been well known for its sound investment environment and the good investments environment, and the rich resources of Australia have been very attractive to foreign investments, including investments from Chinese enterprises. But like other foreign investors, the Chinese investors hope to have a level playing ground in this country, enjoying the same and transparent treatment as others so that they can compete against other foreign investors at the same starting line.

JIM MIDDLETON: One final question, there's been much attention in Australia to the desire of China to purchase agricultural land. In fact, considerable opposition has been expressed by the public. Does this is a something about Australian attitudes to China, do you think?

CHEN YUMING (translation): This is a question I'm very happy to answer. As the Chinese ambassador to Australia I hope to see further growth in our cooperation in trade and investment. And I hope that our business cooperation will go beyond the traditional areas in mining and energy and expand to other sectors, such as agriculture, education, science and technology.

Australia has many famous products, such as wine, beef, other foodstuff, dairy products; as the Chinese ambassador to Australia I would like to see more Australian agricultural produce being served on the Chinese tables. The Chinese enterprises and the Chinese investors would like to make investments in the agricultural sector as they have done in other sectors in cooperation with their Australian partners, but it's not going to be the simple act of purchasing agricultural land. And I have also noted that your Trade Minister, Mr Emerson, pointed out in his speeches and articles that the foreign investment in Australia's agricultural sector is very small in terms of percentage, and the foreign owned agricultural land also accounts for a very small percentage. He said Australia is welcome to China's investment in the agricultural sector and would welcome such statements.

You said that this is the last question. I didn't expect it to come to an end quickly, so thank you very much for giving me the interview today. And I wish China Australia relations will grow from strength to strength in the next 40 years. And I also hope our two countries and the two peoples will enjoy greater prosperity and happiness in the future. And I also hope that ABC will grow stronger in the future and provide better services to its audiences.

JIM MIDDLETON: Ambassador, thank you very much for your time.

CHEN YUMING (translation): Thank you very much.
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