China: The big show with massive possible upside for Australia

In 2021 China increased its import quota of Australia’s premium wool. This story got very little media attention, but it highlighted that China still wants to do business with us.

Having recently concluded my role as WA Commissioner to Greater China, a role which I loved and still miss to this day, it is a good time to reflect and hopefully help change the China narrative slightly if I can. Having the opportunity to live in China and be part of this mind blowing and rapidly developing nation, with all its twists and turns, was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life. After doing business on and off there for more than 25 years I thought I had a clue but until I lived the experience, I realised my depth of knowledge was lacking to say the least.

Every day we hear about the geo-political issues we are currently experiencing but I will share my thoughts on this another time. Today I will talk about the key to future prosperity, which is “people-to-people” engagement. The benefits of people-to-people engagement are economic as well as experiential, adding significant value to the fabric of all our lives.

I constantly hear government and public servants saying they want a positive economic relationship with China. This is the first clue that they may not understand China and its people. Instead, we should be saying is that we want a positive relationship with China, full stop. Simply removing the word “economic” changes the whole essence and focus of the relationship and aligns far more with the Chinese belief system of “friends first, business second”. This is akin to Australians’ way of thinking in that we value mateship first and foremost.

If we can get our relationship balance right with China, both nations can truly benefit.To achieve this, it is critical to think of economic development as a “continuum”. First, to build sustainable relationships we need cultural understanding, which is achieved through two-way sectors and activities such as tourism and international education, as well as sports and performing arts. From this understanding we can achieve some trade, which will grow and diversify. This trade can potentially lead to some small investments, which is followed by large investments.  We need to keep re-investing in the relationship and revisit its core which is “friendship”. With this lens we all win and build sustainable futures.

My number one thought from my experience living in China is that Chinese people are exactly like Australian people. They are free thinking, open and welcoming. They all want a better life for their kids, better housing, better education, better food and to be able to experience new things through travel. 

If you are willing to invest in the relationship, I can promise you there are significant commercial opportunities for Australian companies. I truly feel for those exporters currently facing barriers who have worked tirelessly on their commitment to this market for many years.  The relationship will also improve if we focus on “friends first, business second”.

China’s economy is growing rapidly as it transitions from an export driven economy to a consumer driven economy and we can be a part of that growth. China has a massive commitment to commercialising innovation and is keen to engage and seek partnerships. To see first-hand the investment into AI/AR/VR, med-tech and Ag-tech just to name a few is truly mind blowing and provides us with great opportunity to grow and diversify our economy.

Remember, if you want to enter or grow in the China market you need to be constantly evolving in your messaging and most importantly listening to your customers. On those fronts right now, Chinese consumer brands are “smashing” Western brands. Chinese brands are far nimbler in their approach to product differentiation and packaging.

Western Australia’s economy has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger on the back of mining and for that we should be truly grateful. If we can leverage off that resilience and diversify our economy at the same time, we will continue to be strong for our children’s children and beyond. We can help drive and influence the future of our economy. 

If you are thinking of entering or expanding your business into China, we can assist with that, and I also encourage you to engage with the Chinese community. Connecting with organisations such as the Australia-China Business Council and Australia-China Friendship Society among others is a great way to start the journey. If you have good positive stories about your engagement with the community and business in China, please share them in your socials as this will help build trust. These small steps will go a long way to building that sustainable friendly relationship that benefits all.


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