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March 3, 2010

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Year of Australia in China plus Expo bash

ALONG with a bumper calendar of events for Shanghai's World Expo 2010, Australia will also be celebrating its relationship with China.

Australia plans more than 200 events for the 184 days of Expo, covering a range of trade, environmental and cultural activities.

But it will also be showcasing the breadth of the relationship between the two countries through its "Year of Australia in China" that begins July 1 this year and runs through June 30, 2011.

The events will encompass everything from an Australian studies conference in Shanghai to a range of cultural and performing arts activities at Expo, in Shanghai and around China.

Australian Consul General in Shanghai Tom Connor says the events would lift the profile of Australia in China and provide a series of activities helping people better understand Australia's diverse culture and arts. Diplomatic relations were established in 1972.

"There will be a rolling program to go the full 12 months to showcase Australia and what we do in these performing arts and cultural areas, and this will give Australia a higher profile in China," Connor says.

More broadly, Australia's relationship with China has weathered recent global economic shocks and continued to strengthen by a broad range of business, cultural, diplomatic and person-to-person links.

"The relationship is going very well now and we had a good series of high-level visits last year," he says.

Last October, Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang visited Australia where he had "excellent meetings" with the Prime Minister and his direct counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister Gillard.

During the visit Li gave impetus to the ongoing Australia-China Free Trade talks, signaling support for new high-level dialogue, and re-emphasized the broad-ranging relationship between the two countries.

China is Australia's top-ranked two-way trading partner and Australia is the ninth ranked trade partner for China.

"For both countries it is a very important relationship and a mutually beneficial one," Connor says.

Two-way trade has grown to A$83 billion (US$74 billion) with Australian exports to China and Chinese exports to Australia quite evenly balanced.

"While the doomsayers feared that resources trade would fall in a hole, it has actually held up well in the past 12 months," he says.

"In dollar terms the amount we are selling to China is about the same as last year, and while prices overall have fallen, volumes have grown."

Iron ore is Australia's top export product to China, followed by coal, and both have benefited from an increase in demand and greater volumes.

Major service industries such as education and tourism also rank highly.

Australia has a broad range of companies operating in China in telecommunications, agribusiness, food and hospitality, and financial and legal services and other fields. Growing areas include architecture and urban design and planning.

"It is a broad and almost all-encompassing group of interests covered here both on the goods and services side; basically Australian companies are very active here," he says.

"Particularly in Shanghai, which is a sophisticated market, Australia has a lot to offer."

Australian companies with a strong presence in China include ANZ Bank in the services sector, which is moving toward local incorporation, and Bluescope Steel, which operates an extensive coated-steel plant in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.

Education has consistently remained a major industry, with more than 120,000 Chinese students currently studying in Australia.

This equates to approximately one in 20 people in Australia being a Chinese student, says Connor.

"We have a very good name for value for money, quality and safety for students coming to Australia. It is a welcoming place, a safe environment and they feel at home," he says.

This year there has been a growing interest in post-graduate study in Australia as a result of a soft job market in the wake of global financial crisis.

Despite the economic downturn exacerbated by worries about the H1N1 virus, visitor numbers this year are expected to remain steady, Connor says.

This year Australia will raise its profile in China and deepen the relationship between the countries both through World Expo and activities around China.

With predictions of more than 7 million visitors to the Australia Pavilion and high-level diplomatic visits coinciding with the Expo, Connor says it will be a great opportunity to highlight Australia's long-standing success in China.

"We have a very interesting and inventive group of people doing things in China and I am always struck by the almost limitless variety of things they are doing here," he says.

"If you look at the sheer number of activities that Australians are involved in, particularly in east China, for a country with Australia's population, we are punching well above our weight and have to be one of the most active countries here in China."

Yang Jian

The Australia Pavilion is fast taking shape - the exterior is complete, with curved, red-ochre walls inspired by world-famous Ayer's Rock.

The pavilion near Lupu Bridge covers 4,800 square meters. The red facade is made from a special kind of steel that changes color in response to changes in temperature and humidity.

Australia's exhibition theme is "ImagiNation." Inside exhibits demonstrate the nation's dynamic modern cities with clean water and a strong sense of environmental awareness.

The pavilion features three inter-related sections, titled Journey, Discover and Enjoy, covering many aspects of Australian life.

In the first part, visitors take a journey into Australia's history, featuring sophisticated interactive exhibits and pictures. They will meet the multifaceted population, including the aboriginal people who arrived more than 50,000 years ago.

A 1,000-seat theater will screen a multimedia show revealing a society that is characterized by deep penetration of new technology but still maintains sustainable harmony between urban construction and the natural environment through smart urban planning.

The show will display Australia's innovations and achievements in renewable energy, transport, modern infrastructure and housing. About the Consul Q: How long and where have you been a diplomat?

A: 25 years - Shanghai (twice), Beijing and Tokyo

Q: What's the best, worst thing about being a diplomat?

A: Being able to travel the world, but spending too much time away from home.

Q: What's the one item you cannot do without?

A: Cynics would say a mobile phone, but I think a good sense of humor is more essential.

Q: Motto for life:

A: Always try to keep a proper sense of perspective.

Q: What do you miss most from home?

A: Cherry Ripe chocolate bars.

Q: Who throws the best diplomatic party (aside from you)?

A: Shanghai municipal government's National Day reception, late September 2009.

Q: How do you spend leisure time?

A: Exploring Shanghai, reading and occasionally carving Chinese stone name seals.

Q: Favorite Shanghai spot:

A: Wulumuqi Road M. - it is basically still the same as it was 20 years ago, a slice of real Shanghai.

Q: Where's the best Aussie food in town?

A: There are too many good restaurants to single out just one - perhaps I should say the Consul General's Residence for ANZAC Day breakfast!


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