Fortescue Metals Group chairman Andrew Forrest has urged the Australian and Chinese governments to set aside diplomatic tensions and recognise the importance of the bilateral relationship to both countries’ wellbeing and prosperity.
Mr Forrest, who was speaking at the Australia China Business Council/China Chamber of Commerce in Australia Chinese New Year celebrations last night, said Australia’s relationship with China would continue to prosper if both countries acted with maturity, strength and respect.
In a passionate speech that gave recognition to the sacrifice made by Chinese troops alongside Australian soldiers in World War One, Mr Forrest said much of the current debate in Australia had fuelled distrust, paranoia and a loss of respect, and called on critics to stop focusing on political or cultural differences.
“These differences, which are often used to imply some ‘new challenge’ to Australia, have existed for decades,” Mr Forrest said.
“They existed while we carved out our current strong relationship. They existed when we fought alongside one another.
“And they existed when we signed globally important trade deals.
“We need to stop only focusing on what separates us.
“We need to frankly address areas of concern and disagreement between us.”
Mr Forrest said Australia would not have been able to record 27 years of economic growth without a strong fiscal relationship with China, which also insulated it from the depths of the global financial crisis.
“China’s growth has driven Australia’s growth,” he said.
“Their historic quest to pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in a single generation has also pulled us along in their wake, and they now buy nearly 30% of our exports and represent a $30 billion trade surplus on our current account.
“Likewise, Australian entrepreneurialism in mining and agriculture, and our highly-skilled services in sectors like education and healthcare, continue to propel the development and rising standard of living of our northern neighbour, China.”
Mr Forrest said he was hopeful that 2018 would be a turning point for the China-Australia relationship, and urged government, business and commentators to play a positive role in future engagement with China.
“Mutual respect is the bedrock of our shared destiny and purpose in the region,” Mr Forrest said.
“So I ask Australians to stand with me and respect and celebrate the Chinese community’s deep roots in Australia, and the vital role China has played in the strength and cultural richness of Australia.”