Opportunities Seized or Squandered? The Shape of Australia’s Future Economic Relationship With China

Iron Ore Train

Session Coordinator: Neil Thomas

Business forms the bedrock of the Australia-China relationship. Since diplomatic relations were established in 1972, trade has expanded from A$100million to A$128billion, China has transformed into Australia’s most important two-way trading partner, and Australia has become China’s top foreign direct investment (FDI) destination. But while Australia possesses an abundance of the raw materials voraciously consumed by an urbanising-industrialising China, and the China-driven resources boom was critical to Australia sailing through the Global Financial Crisis into its current prosperity, significant bilateral commercial and economic issues remain.

What is the character of the current Australia-China business relationship and what possibilities and challenges exist for expanding its scope and magnitude? How can China and Australia address why 57% of Australians think that 3% of total FDI stock and 1% of mining and agricultural land is already too much Chinese investment in Australia? Could Chinese FDI provide the impetus for Australia becoming the ‘food-bowl’ of Asia and long-overdue infrastructure reform? How can progress be made towards the finalisation of the much-negotiated Australia-China Free Trade Agreement, and what is needed to make this mutually beneficial? How can Australians navigate cultures of corruption and domestic-foreign double standards in Chinese markets to avoid the fate of Stern Hu and Matthew Ng? What role does business have in expanding the broader ‘China-literacy’ and ‘Australia-literacy’ of Australian and Chinese society, and how important is this to intensifying commercial ties?

This panel discussion will scrutinise the past, present and future of Australia-China business to highlight opportunities and address difficulties, intelligently addressing the question of just how important really is China for Australia’s economic future, and does Australia matter to China?


Professor Peter Drysdale

Emeritus Professor of Economics, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU

Peter Drysdale is Emeritus Professor of Economics in the Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University. He is widely acknowledged as the leading intellectual architect of APEC. He was founding head of the Australia-Japan Research Centre and is known for his work on East Asian and Pacific economic cooperation and the East Asian economies. He is the author of a large number of books and papers on international and resources trade, foreign investment and economic policy in East Asia and the Pacific, including International Economic Pluralism: Economic Policy in East Asia and the Pacific. He is recipient of the Asia Pacific Prize, the Weary Dunlop Award, the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun with Gold Rays and Neck Ribbon, the Australian Centenary Medal and he is a Member of the Order of Australia, and an Honorary Doctor of Letters, from the Australian National University. He is presently Head of East Asia Forum (www.eastasiaforum.org), the East Asian Bureau of Economic Research (EABER) (www.eaber.org) and the South Asia Bureau of Economic Research (SABER) (www.saber.eaber.org). In 2011-12, he served on the Advisory and Cabinet Committee of the Australian Government's White Paper on Australia’s in the Asian Century and is currently a member of the Strategic Advisory Board for implementation of the White Paper.


Colin Heseltine

Director, Sino Gas and Energy Holdings

Colin Heseltine had a forty year career with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (1969-2008), which included many postings in the Asian region and senior policy advisory positions in Australia.

In 2006 he was appointed by the Australian Government to head the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Secretariat in Singapore during Australia’s host APEC year in 2007.

He served as Australian ambassador to the Republic of Korea from 2001-2005, deputy head of mission in the Australian Embassy in Beijing from 1982-85 and 1988-1992, and director of the Australian Commerce and Industry Office in Taiwan from 1992-1997. He has also had diplomatic appointments in Chile (1970-1973) and Spain (1975-78).

From 1998-2001 he was First Assistant Secretary, North Asia Division, Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra.

Since leaving the Australian Government in July 2008, he has provided consultancy services to business organizations and is currently a non-executive board director of Sino Gas and Energy Holdings, an Australian company developing gas assets in China. He is a senior associate with the Nautilus Institute, a public policy think-tank which focuses on energy and sustainability issues in the Korean peninsula, and is vice chairman of the Australia Korea Business Council. He is also Adjunct Professor of the RMIT University (Melbourne).

He has a Bachelor of Economics with honours from Monash University. He is married with two daughters.


QIAN Jingmin

Director, Jing Meridan

Jingmin is a company director and investment management advisor with expertise on international business management, and highly experienced in resources, infrastructure and property sectors in Australia and Asia. Her consultancy, Jing Meridian, provides advisory services to directors and senior management.

Previously she spent over a decade in executive roles with L.E.K. consulting, Boral Ltd and Leighton Holdings, focusing on strategy, investment, mergers and acquisitions, and human resources planning in Australia and Asia. During this period, Jingmin was actively involved in acquisition projects and the expansion of Boral’s Asian plasterboard business in eight countries. Whilst working at Leighton Holdings, Jingmin was responsible for strategy research and scenario planning of the Group’s markets, especially Asia and its impacts on Australia. Prior to that, Jingmin started her career with Ministry of Commerce in Beijing, working with AusAID and UN on foreign development programs in over twenty provinces in China. Recently, Jingmin has co-written a paper “A long march: The Australia-China investment relationship”, which explores trends, policies and lessons of the Chinese investment in Australia and Australian investment in China.

Jingmin is a non-executive director of Golden Cross Resources and CFA Society of Sydney, an advisory committee member of Loscam Australia and Macquarie University’s Department of Marketing and Management, and an Executive Committee of the Australia China Business Council NSW.

Jingmin holds a Bachelor Degree of Economics from University of International Business and Economics in Beijing and an MBA from AGSM in Sydney. Jingmin is a CFA Charterholder and a fellow of Australian Institute of Company Directors.


Laurie Smith

Executive Director, International Operations, Austrade

In his role as Austrade’s Executive Director, International Operations, Laurie Smith is responsible for a network of offices in over 50 countries that assists Australian companies to grow their international business, attracts productive foreign direct investment into Australia and promotes Australia’s education sector internationally. He is based in Sydney.

Laurie has 25 years’ experience in international corporate, advisory and government roles that includes assignments in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Taipei.

From 2005 to 2011, Laurie was Austrade’s Regional Director, North East Asia, with responsibility for teams in over 20 locations. In this role, he led the strengthening of Austrade’s presence across central and western China, developed new strategies to take advantage of opportunities arising from structural change in Japan, and established in-market support for Australian firms in the emerging market of Mongolia.

Laurie previously held a number of senior roles with News Corporation and its affiliates in Hong Kong and Beijing, including as Executive Vice President (China) of STAR TV in Hong Kong. He led China business development for multiple divisions of the company, overseeing a range of direct and portfolio investments in China.

As Executive Director of a Sydney-based Asian-markets strategy consultancy, Laurie worked on projects across India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and South Africa for a client base that spanned Australia, Europe, the USA and Asia.

Laurie’s early career was with the Department of Trade and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra and Taipei.

Laurie has a Bachelor of Science (Mathematics, Statistics) from Melbourne University, and undertook post-graduate study at Peking University. He is fluent in Mandarin.


Michael Bleby (Moderator)

Journalist, BRW Magazine

After studying Japanese at high school, Adelaide University and the ANU, Michael spent three years in Japan on the JET program. His career in journalism started with an internship at Reuters in Tokyo, leading to another internship with Bloomberg in London, which then turned into a four-year job.

Since then Michael has used bashing out stories on a keyboard as a way to spend a year in Damascus as a freelancer and 7.5 years in Johannesburg with Business Day, South Africa's main business daily. He has also written for the Financial Times, The Age, and the Sydney Morning Herald.

He returned to Australia in 2011 and currently works for BRW Magazine in Melbourne, covering professional services (architecture, engineering, and law), transport, gaming, and emerging markets.

When not trying to get his head around why Melbourne's weather is the way it is, he is fascinated to watch how much Australia's responses to China's growth mirror those towards Japan 25 years ago. He can be found tweeting at @MichaelBleby.

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NB: Biographies will be detailed in the coming weeks. Flickr photo courtesy of Castilo Roca.