Joel Wing-Lun: Wrapping up for 2013 ACYD

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The 2013 Australia China Youth Dialogue

Canberra and Melbourne, Australia

 

The 2013 Australia-China Youth Dialogue (ACYD) brought together more than thirty young Australian and Chinese leaders from government, business and academia in Canberra and Melbourne to discuss key aspects of the bilateral relationship with leading experts and policy makers. The inaugural ACYD was held in 2010 as a response to remarks made by Stephen Fitzgerald, Australia’s first ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, lamenting the lack of institutionalised dialogue between Australia and China. In four short years, ACYD has become one of the most important bilateral forums. It has an alumni network of outstanding former delegates that stretches across the globe and has become a model for other youth dialogues in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

A non-profit run by volunteers, ACYD has been fortunate to enjoy the support of eminent people and institutions that have contributed their time and energy to the Dialogue. Previous ACYD speakers have included Frances Adamson, Australian Ambassador to China, Justin Yifu Lin, former Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank, and Bob Hawke, former Prime Minister of Australia. The 2013 ACYD received the rare honour of an opening reception with Governor General Quentin Bryce at Government House, as well as a post-Dialogue reception for delegates and alumni at the Australian Embassy in Beijing.

The 2013 ACYD delegates brought to the table diverse professional experience across sectors including government, finance, media, academia and the military. Some had a strong background in Australia-China relations, while others were eager to learn about the impact of the relationship on their own areas of expertise. The 2013 delegates included University of Sydney alumni Yun Liu, an international relations researcher, Sarah Stewart, a tech entrepreneur, and Chloe Qiu, a financier.

Over five intense days, the delegates discussed and debated key issues in the relationship, including climate change, business, regional security and cultural diplomacy. In the opening session, the delegates discussed the science, politics and economics of climate change with experts from the Australian National University and the China-based NGO Climate Bridge. While China is the world’s greatest emitter of greenhouse gasses, Alex Wyatt of Climate Bridge described Chinese measures to reduce emissions that dwarf those being debated in Australia. Citing China’s problems with wasted food, he noted that if global food waste were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse emitter after China and the United States.

A tour of Australian Parliament House was followed by a question and answer session with MPs Andrew Leigh and Josh Frydenberg, who engaged in a spirited discussion with the delegates on the practicalities of Australian governance and managing the Australia-China relationship. The MPs expressed clear partisan differences on matters of domestic policy, but were generally in agreement in their approach to Australia-China relations. At an Old Parliament House dinner hosted by the University of Sydney China Studies Centre, Executive Director Kerry Brown delivered a keynote address on China’s journey to middle income status and its implications for Chinese politics and society, and by extension the world at large.

Experts at a panel discussion on security cited China’s domestic challenges as the main reason why China would be unlikely to engage in armed conflict in the region. They rejected the notion that Australia must choose between China and the United States. Yet these arguments were put to the test in a crisis simulation led by Michael Shoebridge, First Assistant Secretary for Strategic Policy at the Department of Defence. Delegates played the roles of regional powers as Philippine pirates hijacked a vessel in disputed waters in the South China Sea, revealing themselves to be somewhat less temperate than their real life counterparts.

Former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans delivered a speech on the importance of personal relationships and cultural diplomacy in international relations. Over meat pies at the Henley Club and dumplings in Chinatown, the 2013 ACYD delegates engaged in some cultural diplomacy of their own. They are continuing to collaborate, producing opinion pieces and content in partnership with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In the months since the Dialogue, there have been alumni reunions across at least three continents. Friendships and partnerships have been forged that will change the face of Australia-China relations in years to come.

Joel Wing-Lun Governance and Law Coordinator, Australia-China Youth Dialogue