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Friday, 24 October 2003
Page: 21695

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) (10:08 AM) —Mr Speaker and Mr President of the Senate, on behalf of the government and on behalf of all members, I extend to His Excellency Hu Jintao, the President of the People's Republic of China, a very warm welcome to our national parliament. I extend that welcome to his wife, Madame Liu, and to all the other members of the Chinese party.

It would be no exaggeration to say that 10 years ago an event such as this would have been seen as not only unlikely but indeed highly improbable. Equally, I would not have thought 10 years ago that as Prime Minister of Australia and as the leader of a Western, Centre Right political party I would have—as I did in 2002—addressed the cadres of the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. I think that says a number of things. It says something of the way in which our world has changed. It says something of the commonsense character of the relationship between Australia and China, because that event in 2002 occurred and this event today occurs without either of our two nations in any way abandoning their distinctive but different traditions.

I would characterise the relationship between Australia and China as being both mature and practical and as being a relationship that is intensely built on growing people-to-people links. We are different societies. We have different cultures, we have different traditions and we have different histories. No purpose is served in pretending otherwise. But might I say that that has never blinded successive Australian governments of both political persuasions to an endeavour to draw from the relationship those things that can be of great and enduring mutual benefit to our societies. So in those senses it is a very mature and practical relationship.

The people-to-people links are immensely important. I can describe it this way: the most widely spoken foreign language in Australia today is a dialect of Chinese, and three per cent of the Australian population, no fewer than 550,000 people, claim Chinese ancestry. Speaking personally, 13.3 per cent of my own electorate of Bennelong in Sydney claim Chinese ancestry. There are 34,000 students from China studying in Australia. China is now Australia's third largest trading partner. Last year the signing of the natural gas contract for the supply, over 25 years, of natural gas to the Guangdong province was a veritable landmark in the evolution of the economic relationship between our two nations. Two-way trade between Australia and China has trebled since 1996.

Let me take the opportunity today of recording, on behalf of the government, our appreciation for the constructive, practical and wholly positive approach that China has taken in helping, in partnership with others, to resolve the challenging issue of North Korea's nuclear capabilities. No nation has more influence on North Korea than China. The resolution of that issue, which must necessarily involve other nations as well, is very important to the stability and the peace of our region.

Finally, it is self-evident that the relationship between Australia, the United States and China respectively, on a two-way basis—that is, our relationship with the United States and then again our relationship with China—will be extremely important to the stability of our region. Our aim is to see calm and constructive dialogue between the United States and China on those issues which might potentially cause tension between them. It will be Australia's aim, as a nation which has different but nonetheless close relationships with both of those nations, to promote that constructive and calm dialogue.

Mr President, you and your wife are greatly welcomed to our country. We thank you for coming. We wish you well. We know that you will receive a warm reception from many people in this country who will demonstrate their affection for the important relations between our two peoples.