SYDNEY - It’s been called the “mining to dining” boom as Australia’s looks to cash in on the burgeoning rise of the middle class in China. Last month, the government in Canberra sent its biggest-ever business delegation to China to boost ties after a free trade agreement was signed at the end of last year. This week, a 100-strong trade and cultural delegation from the city of Sydney has traveled to Guangzhou, one of China’s biggest cities.
Australia’s heavyweight trade mission to China in April was illuminated by spellbinding shows by Bangarra, the famous indigenous dance company that was part of the delegation. Its executive director, Philippe Magid, said his performers made a lasting impression on Chinese audiences.
“I got up and gave a little introductory discussion topic around what it is they are about to see and then as soon as our senior song man Jakapura was able to get up on stage and sing a cleansing song there was absolute silence. We are sought after because we are unique and we capture people in a way that people don’t even know before they get there,” said Magid.
The Bangarra dance company was founded in 1989 to promote Australia’s rich indigenous culture. Magid is keen to tap into a growing Chinese market for performance art.
“We perform all over the world. We’ll be in Paris and New York later this year. We were in China earlier this year. China, for us, is important for various levels. Corporate relationships are very important to an organization like ours and a lot of our partners and future partners have deep and strong relationships in China, and so we work in partnership with them to ensure they can use us in a way that can help support their programs. And, you know, that might sound overly commercial. It is,” said Magid.
China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, but as a long mining boom fades, new ways to prosperity are being sought.
The value of Australia's food exports to China has grown by 16 percent over the last decade and they could overtake sales of iron ore by 2030.
Tim Harcourt from the University of New South Wales says other parts of the economy will benefit, too.
“They say we are going from the mining boom to the dining boom with the rise of agriculture, but I think it is broader than that. I think probably professional services, architecture, infrastructure, education [are] all part of the next generation of the Australia-Chinese trade relationship,” said Harcourt.
And Harcourt says that Australian sporting clubs are also chasing opportunities in China.
“[A] most unusual one in the last month has been the Port Adelaide Football Club, which is an Aussie Rules club. It has now attracted a very important Shanghai investor and it is actually going to play AFL - Aussie Rules Football - games in China once a year for Premiership points. That is quite something,” he said.
China’s links to Australia are stronger than ever. This week, Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, is leading the council’s first-ever overseas trade and cultural mission to one of China’s biggest cities.
“The significance of Guangzhou can’t be over-estimated. It is the third largest city in China. It is a city of 11 million people in a province of 107 million people. Given Australia’s population, it’s really chalk and cheese. Those cities in the south and the west of China are very significant in terms of trade and transport, and the new economies. And for us that is very important. All through the 20th century we were very, very prosperous because we had a dig it up economy and we’ve made a lot of money out of it. That was finite and now we are now very much looking at developing the new and emerging economies,” said Moore.
The pursuit of prosperity does, however, require some nimble diplomatic footwork. Australia must balance its long-standing military alliance with the United States with its critical trade relationship with China at a time when tensions continue to fester in the resource-rich South China Sea.