Jade Little on Australia-China relations

Jade Little is currently employed by BHP Mitsubishi Alliance as a Superintendent for Mine Planning. Previously working for McKinsey & Company Jade was involved in the transformation services for mining, oil & gas and construction sectors around Australia. She also worked in Beijing for RungePincockMinarco, an Australian mining consultancy, where she assisted Chinese SOEs list their global mining assets on the Hong Kong or Toronto Stock Exchanges. Most recently Jade has been appointed as Executive Director of the Australia China Youth Dialogue. In this interview, she shares her thoughts on the big opportunities for greater engagement between Australia and China.

What’s been the most significant event in terms of impact on Australia’s relations with China over the past six months?

I consider the finalisation of the Australia China Free Trade Agreement to be an important recent development in Australia-China relations. The relevance of it is heightened by other Chinese initiatives to develop the ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy and a vast Eurasian economic community that could compete with the value Australia brings to China from a trade perspective in the future.

What will be the most significant event in terms of impact on Australia’s relations with China in the next six months?

Much Western reporting focuses on economic decline and problems in familiar areas of the Chinese economy but there is neglect of the manner in which China is undertaking a major restructuring of its economy. This is a restructure away from Western markets and economies and towards the potential of the emerging economies. In particular, Eurasia and Africa, are potentially accessible by sea, fast rail and other modern infrastructure networks.

What would be your best advice for aspiring business leaders in the region aiming to cultivate deeper engagement with the Asia region?

Naturally learning the language is important, but this is just one piece of the puzzle. A cultural understanding and appreciation, I would argue, is even more important because culture drives people’s behaviour and shapes the country.

Developing a deep cultural understanding can be achieved through spending time in country via study or work opportunities, reading about the country’s history, making friends who grew up in the region and partaking in cultural festivals and events. This will help you develop a critical mind for the foundations of a culture and be able to better assess what opportunities and challenges lie ahead.

Australia’s next generation of professionals working across the Asia region will need to have the capacity to communicate their insights in this regard, to the broader Australian community who may have limited understanding of the region.

Going forward, what do you see as the major obstacle to Australia-Asia engagement in your field?

The major obstacle to Australian engagement in the region is the scarcity of Asia-educated and Asia-aware Australians, particularly in relevant policy and strategic positions in both the private and public sectors. This presents a major national challenge which requires a significant, focused effort to educate, mentor and give relevant experience and advancement to young Asia-capable Australians.

What do you see as the most promising initiative underway in China?

I think one of the most important and promising initiatives underway in China at the moment is the commitment from the Chinese Communist Party to move away from a heavily polluting economy, to a cleaner and greener one. After living in Beijing for two years and experiencing first-hand the intensity of the pollution, it is heartening to see the urgency placed on this public issue. For instance, the government has been releasing ‘red alerts’ for severe air pollution, environmental laws are more formidable than in the past, and renewable energies are taking a larger share of total power use in China. China’s example could also potentially help to set standards that are observed more widely in the region as other emerging economies undertake the transition to greater industrialisation.

How can Australia deepen its regional involvement in this area?

People-to-people ties underpin the bilateral relationship, and thus regional involvement. It is important that initiatives that support this are expanded and continually promoted, whether via professional development programs, trade missions, bilateral defence routines, Track II dialogues, or initiatives like ACYD.

What was your motivation to get involved with the Australia China Youth Dialogue?

I have been involved as both a delegate in 2012 and now Executive Director.

My initial interest in participating in the 2012 ACYD (which was held in Beijing and Chengdu) was twofold:

  • Expand my knowledge of the Australia-China relationship so that I would be better equipped for contributing to it throughout my career. At the time I had been working in Beijing for over a year in the mining industry, predominately working with State Owned Enterprises. While I thoroughly enjoyed my work, I felt my world was a little too focused on one industry and one type of institution.
  • Meet a range of high-calibre young people passionate about China and Australia. Up to this point in my life, I had only a handful of friends who really took an interest in China and Australia relations and understood the complexities of the two countries forming a successful relationship into the future. The opportunity to meet a range of other young and influential people was too good to pass on.

After what I would call a ‘life-changing’ dialogue (ACYD led to me changing my profession due to a conversation I had with one of the speakers in a Chengdu panda park), I became even more passionate about developing and contributing to dialogue on Australia-China relations. Additionally, since moving back to Australia I have found it hard to maintain my involvement in the Australia-China space, so the role of Executive Director appeals as a great way to do this.

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