Foreign Minister to launch book on Sino-Australia relations

21 August 2012

The book of 10 essays examines the historical, political, defence and diplomatic dimensions of Sino-Australia relations.
The book of 10 essays examines the historical, political, defence and diplomatic dimensions of Sino-Australia relations.

Few would have envisaged China as our largest trading partner when Australia established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1972, says the University of Sydney editor of a new book marking the 40th anniversary of the bilateral relationship.

Today, the relationship poses a dilemma, says Dr Jingdong Yuan from the University's China Studies Centre. "Australia considers the US to be its most important security partner at a time when its economic reliance on China has never been greater."

Australia and China at 40 (UNSW Press) is a stock take, discussing how events of the last four decades could shape our future relationship with China. Australia's Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr officially launches the book in Canberra today.

Co-edited by China Studies Centre academic Dr James Reilly, the book of 10 essays by Australian and Chinese academics examines the historical, political, defence and diplomatic dimensions of Australia's most discussed bilateral relationship.

University of Sydney historian Dr James Curran begins the book with a fascinating account of events leading to the 1972 establishment of diplomatic relations, occurring amidst the complex backdrop of the Cold War and a thawing of the relationship between the US and China.

"President Nixon's 1972 visit to China was a shock to the government led by Prime Minister William McMahon, whose anti-China attitude was a factor in his electoral loss to Gough Whitlam," says Dr Yuan.

Offering a Chinese perspective, Han Feng, Deputy Director of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences wonders why it took so long for a strong bilateral relationship to develop between Australia and China. Looking ahead, Professor Han suggests the relationship may develop from one based solely on economic co-operation to one including political and security co-operation.

Elsewhere, the Lowy Institute's Director of Polling and Research Fellow Fergus Hanson offers insight into how Australians' attitudes shape relations with China. Polling has become a staple ingredient in Australian policy making, he argues. With 44 percent of Australians believing China will become a military threat to Australia in 20 years, he concludes China has limited scope to behave forcefully towards this country. "Its bullying over the issuing of visas to Chinese activists and arbitrary and opaque handling of the Stern Hu affair were not well received by the Australian public," he says. "If it continues on this course, opinion among Australian voters can be expected to harden, diminishing China's room to manoeuvre."

Senator Carr will officially launch Australia and China at 40 at 4pm, at Parliament House in Canberra. The launch is part of a University event, Local and Global: A Celebration of our History and Future. University Deputy Vice Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) Professor Shane Houston will also address the event, outlining how Australia's higher education sector should support the aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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