Former PM stresses Australia and China are “different” but “united”

Former prime minister John Howard says people-to-people links are the bedrock of Australia-China relations

John Howard addresses an audience of Chinese and Australian entrepreneurs at an annual business awards night

Former prime minister John Howard says people-to-people links are the bedrock of Australia-China relations

12 November 2019 | Marcus Reubenstein

Former Australian prime minister John Howard has told a Chinese-Australian business audience that the differences between the two nations are a factor in the relationship, but they should not stand in the way of progress between Australia and its biggest trading partner.

Speaking at an awards night for Chinese-Australian businesses and entrepreneurs, he says, We shouldn’t pretend China and Australia are the same. We’re different in size, we’re different in culture, we’re different in tradition and we are very different in political systems and that is going to remain the case way into the future.”

Mr. Howard, who was prime minister when Australia and China commenced negotiations on the free trade agreement, expressed confidence in the current prime minister’s desire to advance the relationship, citing Scott Morrison’s recent one-on-one meeting with Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang. “I know that he (Prime Minister Morrison) is very committed to continuing to build the relationship between out two societies,” Mr. Howard says.

Before attending the awards last night, at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Mr. Howard joined one hundred business leaders at an all-day seminar organised by the Sino International Entrepreneurs Federation (SIEF). A non-profit organisation, incorporated in Switzerland, it holds annual summits in Europe, Africa, Australia and China, attracting high-level participation including that of former British prime minister Gordon Brown and, former French presidents, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande.  

Despite the strains, a relationship of mutual benefit

Speaking at the event, former Howard government minister, now Chair of the Australia-China Council, Warwick Smith says of Australia’s relationship with China, “It is a relationship that undergoes some strains; but, if you take it over a long period of time, where there is a mutuality of benefit differences can always be solved.”

He added, “You have differences in families, you have differences between countries but ours has been an enduring relationship (and) this is a long relationship.”

Australia China Council Chair, Warwick Smith

Many attendees of the summit privately conceded that strained bi-lateral relationships were not good for business but stressed on a micro-business level there remains a considerable amount of goodwill between Australia and China.  

It was a theme pursued by Ms Wang Hongbo, the Economic and Commercial Counsellor of the Chinese Consulate in Sydney. “As the Chinese saying goes, great county to country relationships are based on profound people to people relationships,” she says.

Ms Wang pointed out that China only opened its doors to global business forty years ago and that its process of liberalization and economic engagement is continually evolving, “Australia and China,” she says, “can set an example to the Asia Pacific of how we can work with each other.”

Wang Hongbo, Chinese Consulate Commercial and Economic Counselor

New China export opportunities are there for Australian business

One of the key themes of the summit was to look beyond the traditional bulk commodity export relationship between Australia and China, focusing on the export potential of services and new technologies.

Mr. Howard praised Australia’s Chinese community for its contribution in helping facilitate those opportunities, “Despite those differences, we are united by complementary economies, we are united by the people to people links that exist between our two nations.

“And as is so evident from the vibrant Chinese Australian community, people to people links are far and away the most important of all,” he says.

Among the recipients of China-Australia business awards, organised by publishing group AFN Daily, were companies in renewable energy, financial services, healthcare, infrastructure development and agricultural investment.

Winners included, Rock Power and Apple Orchard which are jointly developing the technology and building renewable energy power stations which, among other fuels, are using waste products which otherwise would have been consigned to landfill.  

Former PM, John Howard with winners of the AFN Business Awards

ASX-listed Mediland Pharm was awarded for promoting and marketing its range of healthcare supplements and cosmetics. Agricultural fund manager, Wharton Capital was recognised; as was the Australian arm of China’s major credit card and financial transaction provider Union Pay.