Australia and the two great powers in Asia, China and Japan – the former already economically dominant, the latter enjoying an unexpected renaissance – depend on each other for their economic and strategic futures.
Here the ambassadors of those countries, interviewed in their Canberra offices, speak with rare frankness about how they view the big developments of our day – and especially about their crucial relations with Australia.
Chinese ambassador to Australia Chen Yuming:
On the new leadership:
“The whole world is watching China, to see in which direction the new leadership will go. I see continuity in many directions, but some economic adjustments.
“We shall pursue non-stop the policy of opening up the economy, towards building a more open country. That’s the only way to develop China, and to have a good relationship with the rest of the world. China has to date been export-oriented, but reorienting the economy to fit the new international environment will be the right choice.”
On cyber warfare:
“Cyber security is an important issue that the whole international community is facing, including China and Australia. We understand the attention given to this. China too is a victim of such attacks, and we oppose such activities. In 2012, the networks of our defence industry were subjected to more than 80,000 attacks every month. We are one of the weakest countries technologically. We’re seeking to co-operate with foreign companies and governments to fight such attacks.
“I was very surprised to find (the claim made by ABC1’s Four Corners that China had obtained plans of the new ASIO headquarters) in the mass media. It was totally unfair. We have no idea about this building. It’s the first time I’d heard about it.”
On US and regional relations:
“I believe China and the US are doing their best to enrich their dialogue and understanding. The real choice is between co-operation and confrontation. Maybe you will find new types of meetings, in a new format that’s very unusual for China” – like last week’s informal “no-necktie” summit between Xi Jinping and Barack Obama.
“This is a new era, with both sides willing to have more frequent dialogues, in a more flexible way, with rich content. China is in a very difficult situation, with 14 land neighbours, 18 including sea boundaries. There are still some disputes and differences of view. If they can’t be resolved in our generation, it’s smarter to let the next generation resolve them. We would hope other countries will do the same, following the saying, ‘The trees will stand still while the winds keep blowing.’
“We are firmly opposed to acts that break out from the status quo and seek to arouse dispute, in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Disputes are not useful for any countries. We don’t act first, and China will be very restrained in such cases, and we don’t want to experience situations where we are forced to react.”
On Australian relations:
“The recent visit to China of Julia Gillard has taken the relationship to a historical high after 40 years. This was a happy outcome for me, after more than 2 1/2 years as ambassador here. The next step in our ties will be driven by this new strategic partnership and by the regular bilateral dialogues involving the prime ministers, foreign ministers and treasurers. This will keep our relations earthed, durable and stable. President Xi Jinping has already accepted an invitation to visit Australia next year for the G20 summit in Brisbane. It’s not only our economies which are complementary but our long-term strategic interests are also very similar.”
Australia and other economic partners should “seize the opportunity to find the right direction for reinvesting” in China’s future, “diversifying our ties from the traditional resources sector, and finding new forms of co-operation”.
“Increasing use of the new opportunities to trade directly using our currencies is one way, which I believe will save our countries more than $1 billion a year.
“Both have a very strong willingness to conclude a free trade agreement. But there have already been 19 rounds of negotiations. That’s a long time, but countries with such strong economies will have a big agenda, and the last part may be more difficult because the easier issues may have been resolved first.
“Sometimes Chinese companies complain about investment in Australia, they would like better understanding and a shorter procedure. Generally, I find Australia a friendly environment for China to invest in, but of course there’s room to improve.
“It’s not fair to criticise (private investors), they have no intention to buy your country. They want to deliver their customers better and cheaper products. I have had meetings with many Australian farmers who are very welcoming of such investors. It’s important that we Chinese are considered not only as economic partners but as partners in a more comprehensive way, and for the long term – built on a solid base, despite our different social systems and ideologies. And Australia’s multicultural policy is very successful, compared with other countries. We find peaceful co-existence between ethnic groups here.”
Japanese ambassador to Australia Yoshitaka Akimoto:
On Australian relations:
“Prime Minister Shinzo Abe understands the importance of relations with Australia. He has a very strategic mind. Australia is one of the priority countries in his foreign policy, and I believe he is keen to come here. We have negotiated 16 rounds towards a free trade agreement. I think it would be better to conclude our FTA, then move on to the Trans Pacific Partnership being led by the US.
“As Japan’s nuclear industry restarts after the 2011 tsunami under tougher new regulations, the country is relying more heavily on liquefied natural gas, for which Australia has become the biggest supplier.”
Japan is also the third biggest investor in Australia after the US and Britain, with cashed-up companies keen in recent years to do business where growth is higher than back home.
“At first this meant a focus on resources, but now our companies are paying more attention to other sectors, including manufacturing and services,” with the vast retailer Uniqlo recently opening in Melbourne.
“Japanese businesspeople working in Australia always complain about the high cost structure, including the cost of labour, the too pro-union industrial relations regime, inefficient infrastructure like railways and ports, the duplication of rules and processes between federal and state systems, the tax system with its carbon and mining taxes, and the so-called green tape” – environmental regulations. “Approvals take a long time, sometimes more than a year” – but businesspeople still find the environment attractive.
“Co-operation in defence and security are developing substantially, with annual meetings between our foreign affairs and defence ministers and co-operation on the ground between the defence forces going very well, especially in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and joint peacekeeping in South Sudan.
“Australia is very interested in science and technology co-operation in the defence field, especially relating to submarines.
“Japan and Australia share common values, and we have the same strategic interests in this region: to maintain long-term peace, stability and prosperity. Sometimes, though, we take each other for granted. And we need to pass on our strong relations to the next generation. Abe is reinforcing that by relaunching his Genesis scheme bringing Asia-Pacific students to Japan, including 250 from Australia every year.”
“The main purpose of Abenomics is to replace the last two decades of deflation with a decade of economic recovery. It is a very bold and courageous and unconventional step, and the Japanese people are welcoming these new measures. Abe started with three arrows: monetary and fiscal policy, and a growth strategy. The first and second have already been introduced, resulting in the pick-up to date,” and elements of the structural reform package were announced last week.
“Joining the TPP trade group is another important component of Abe’s growth strategy. There are groups opposed to the open market, especially for agricultural products, but Abe believes we have to revitalise this sector, whose barriers would have to be removed for Japan to enter the TPP, which Australia is also negotiating to join.”
“The economic recovery and the so-called nationalistic mood in Japan are totally different things. Of course we know that some experts say that Japan’s cabinet is moving to the Right. But I think that’s a very simplistic view because in the spheres of security and of regional diplomatic relations we are confronted by the development of events which are causing increasing concern among Japanese people” – including China’s claim for the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, and North Korea’s continuing nuclearisation.
“Such concerns have been reflected in the political process. That’s a natural phenomenon, and not unique to Japan – not that Japan is heading in a right-wing nationalistic direction.
“Since the end of World War II, Japan has been contributing a lot to the growth of peace and stability in the region.
“I am sure Japan will continue to make such contributions.
“Historically and logically, the Senkaku Islands are Japanese sovereign territory, that is the status quo. China is not satisfied with the existing order and is trying to change it. We can’t tolerate this happening by the use of force or threat. There are proposals to shelve this issue during negotiations. But our position is that we control the islands and have no reason to share them.”Source: The Australian – Tantalising partnerships of trust
- Australia’s relationship with China is beset with misperceptions (craighill.net)
- The Xi Jinping-Obama Summit (chinadailymail.com)
- Australia defense paper accepts rise of China’s military – China Daily (chinadaily.com.cn)
- Former Australian Prime Minister says US v China debate is ‘infantile’ (chinadailymail.com)
- TPP a test for Beijing’s new ‘big nation’ diplomacy (wantchinatimes.com)
- The Trans-Pacific Partnership as a tool to contain China: myth or reality? (eastasiaforum.org)
- Australia’s Security Heavily Reliant on Indonesia’s: Paper (thejakartaglobe.com)
- China May Join US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership Talks (thediplomat.com)
- You: After Japan joins talks, China considering TPP (japantimes.co.jp)
- Canberra’s veto of Fiji aid evidence of ‘crash tackling’ regime (pacific.scoop.co.nz)