Since the earliest days of European settlement, Australia and China’s paths have been intertwined. The earliest relations occurred around the 1850s, when initial settlers travelled as farmers and labourers to Australia, shortly followed by the many thousands which travelled to Melbourne and regional Victoria during the Victorian Gold Rush.
Since 1972, Australia and China formerly established a diplomatic relationship and opened both countries to trade, migration and investment. Since then, China’s impact on Australia has been enormous, forging a relationship built on trade and the exchange of ideas. Trade between the two countries has grown from $100 million to over $155 billion, making China Australia’s number one trading partner, dwarfing trade with United States, European Union or Japan.
Today, Australia is one of the world’s most vibrant and multicultural countries on the planet. Australia has been shaped by decades of successive waves of migration that have helped strengthen the cultural, economic and ethnic diversity of our nation. Australian multiculturalism is a positive force aimed at bolstering the national identity and preserving shared values of fairness and democracy.
According to the 2016 census, Australia is home to over 1.2 million people of Chinese ancestry. Over 650,000 people living in Australia were born in China, making Chinese-Australians the second largest group born overseas after British-Australians. Statistically, most immigration to Australia has resulted with a permanent move, with close to 80% of immigrants with more than 10-years’ of residence choosing to take up Australian citizenship.
The strength of the Australia-China bond continues to be reflected in the statistics: there are now almost 1.5 million Chinese tourists visiting Australia each year, accounting for almost half of all overseas travellers, and spending 2-3 times more than the average traveller. Chinese students number upwards of 140,000, and according to Tourism Australia, Chinese education visitors are spending upwards of $5.3 billion each year. Australia also enjoys sustained economic growth as a result of the enormous resources export market into China.
The Australia-China bond plays a very important role in contributing to the success of key industries, as well as the overall prosperity and resilience of the Australian economy.
But the Chinese community’s impact on Australia is deeper than just numbers. Chinese cuisine is popular with many Australians, regardless of ethnic or cultural background. Chinese holidays are universally celebrated, television shows and films are consumed, and many suburbs across Australia have transformed into cultural hubs, offering many an insight into the ‘old country’.
The Australian and Chinese communities have come a long way in their understanding and acceptance of one another, and it is a relationship that we should strive to continue to improve.