Happy New Year!


2009 was without a doubt one of the busiest and most productive years in Australia-China bilateral relations in recent times. Furthermore, the outlook for 2010 is for another period of activity and achievement writes Australian Ambassador to China, HE, Dr Geoff Raby.

We finished the year with a bang at the 2009 ANZ Australian Film Festival, ‘My Australian Life’, at The Village in Beijing. The film festival featured an excellent line-up of new and classic Australian films, including the award winning Samson & Delilah, and Mary and Max. We were thrilled to have the presence of two eminent Australian film industry personalities – Jack Thompson AM, respected actor and Festival Patron, as well as Melanie Coombs, the Producer of Mary and Max. The Festival also featured six groundbreaking Australian documentaries as part of the iDOCs Beijing International Documentary Festival.
An Australian food and beverage promotion at The Village was another highlight of the week’s events, culminating in an outdoor BBQ enjoyed by all. Look out for more Film Festival events in Shanghai and Guangzhou early in 2010.
This capped off an exciting year of cultural activities including the Sydney Symphony Orchestra tour to China, the ‘Coming Home’ exhibition of 37 Australian-Chinese artists, together with a Victorian Bushfire charity art auction, and another successful literary festival – with more prominent writers set to hit our shores at the next Australian Writers’ Week in March 2010.
Aside from these exciting activities in the cultural sphere, the political and economic dimensions of bilateral relations continue to move full-steam ahead. Over recent months, numerous high-level visits have occurred in both directions, underlining the strength of the bilateral relationship. Trade Minister, the Hon Simon Crean MP, made several visits during the year, with other visitors including the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Stephen Smith MP, and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Hon Tony Burke MP.
Most recently, Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Climate Change and Water, visited Beijing in mid-October to co-chair the second Australia-China Ministerial Dialogue on Climate Change with National Development and Reform Commission Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua. The two Ministers discussed actions Australia and China can take to assist global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and renewed the Australia-China Memorandum of Understanding on climate change activities.
In late October, the Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism, the Hon Martin Ferguson AM MP, also visited Shanghai for the Third Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate Ministerial Conference, providing a valuable opportunity to discuss climate change, energy security and air pollution challenges in the Asia-Pacific region with important regional partners.
In mid-October, Chinese People’s Liberation Army Chief of General Staff, General Chen Bingde, visited Australia and met senior government representatives including the Minster for Defence. They discussed the potential for expanding existing defence and security activities, to provide for greater opportunities for cooperation in areas of shared interest.
A major highlight in late October was a visit to Australia by Executive Vice Premier Li Keqiang. His meetings with Prime Minister the Hon Kevin Rudd MP and Deputy Prime Minister the Hon Julia Gillard MP resulted in an agreement to sustain and enhance dialogue, engagement and cooperation at all levels to advance the bilateral relationship, including through the conclusion of a comprehensive and high-quality Free Trade Agreement, and by working together to promote peace, stability and development in the Asia Pacific region. A major outcome of the visit was the release of a joint statement by both governments (see: www.pm.gov.au/node/6288).
Earlier in the year, Politbureau Standing Committee Member Li Changchun also visited Australia with a high-powered ministerial delegation.
Figures for January – September 2009 show continuing encouraging growth, with China replacing Japan for the first time to become Australia’s largest export market (over 20 percent of total merchandise exports). Bilateral trade in 2008-09 reached A$83 billion, up 30 percent year-on-year. Bilateral services trade grew robustly, especially in the education sector with China the source of nearly a quarter of Australia’s international student enrolments (exceeding 140,000 in the nine months to October).
In 2010, two-way activity will intensify with the Australian Pavilion to shine at the Shanghai World Expo, highlighting our innovation and achievement to millions of Chinese and international visitors. From June 2010, the Year of Australian Culture in China will be launched under the theme of ‘artistic collaboration’, bringing a vast array of Australian artists and performers to China to enhance cross-cultural understanding and highlight cooperation between both countries in the arts. Finally, I would like to wish the readers of Australia China Connections the very best for the New Year and the upcoming Chinese Spring Festival season.

For those travelling, remember to check the Smartraveller website (www.smartraveller.gov.au/) and to register your details when travelling overseas.

Warm regards,
Dr Geoff Raby  


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