China aus den Augen eines Ministers

Was ist dran am "Asian Century"?

Der ehemalige Handelsminister Australiens, Dr. Craig Emerson, führte während seiner Amtszeit unzählige Verhandlungen mit hochrangigen chinesischen Kadern und Wirtschaftsleuten. Er hielt ebenfalls die Position des “Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy” und arbeitete als Wirtschaftsanalytiker für die United Nations. Im exklusiven Interview mit sinonerds erzählt er von seinen China-Erfahrungen als Minister, den chinesisch-australischen Beziehungen und dem Beginn des “Asian Century”.

sinonerds: Craig, what was your first encounter with China?

Craig Emerson: My first encounter was in 1984, when I was working for the Resources and Energy Minister Peter Walsh. I had just finished my PhD, we went to Beijing and my memories were huge numbers of people on pushbikes and wearing pretty much the same clothes. There are not many pushbikes in Beijing now, you get run over (laughs), and people wear all sorts of different clothes. At that time, there was an enormous amount of building going on, but it was small brick building. Now it’s all very large scale and modern technique. So it has changed enormously.

And what did you learn about China being the Australian Minister for Trade?

Very much that the statement about China’s rise is wrong. It’s actually about its re-emergence. China was with India the two dominant economies up to period before the industrial revolution, which shifted the global centre of economic activity to Europe. This led to the decline of Asia because there were superior technologies that allowed ocean travel, weaponry and so on. In the grand sweep of things the industrial revolution has occupied quite a short period, from the late 1700s through to the middle of the twentieth century. And now we are just seeing the re-emergence of China and India and other countries of the region that are enjoying the catch-up possibilities of the technologies that the West has had and China can now utilise and will increasingly create. I don’t think the West is ready for that.

Many people in Western countries perceive the CCP and its members as a frightening power structure. What does it feel like to talk to high-ranking Chinese officials?

They are very fascinating people who are really interested in Australia. There is no doubt that they want to strengthen the friendship and also the commercial relationships between our two countries, and there’s a lot of goodwill between Australia and China. The perspective they always bring, which is a professional perspective in many respects, is looking for ways to strengthen that relationship. But we got on very well, lots of laughs and really good people.

So you can joke with them easily?

Yeah, sure. There was one occasion when Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Foreign Minister Bob Carr and I went to China earlier this year. We were witnessing the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the two countries. The Chinese Premier Li Keqiang asked Prime Minister Gillard who was the minister responsible for negotiating a free trade agreement between Australia and China and there is this famous photo of them both (Julia Gillard and Li Keqiang) pointing to me. Then I said, “I’m the free trade guy” (laughs) to Premier Li.

What were the differences in negotiating with Chinese people and people from Australia or Western countries?

It’s the same old story. You get further with the development of trust and friendship. It doesn’t matter whether that’s with your next-door neighbour or a business community or across nations. If you develop those sorts of relationships people can confide in you and tell you what their real constraints are and why they have those constraints. If you don’t have that relationship they will just indicate that they can’t move anymore and you may be mystified as to why they can’t. But once trust is established that you’re not going to seek to exploit the relationship, you can make progress. It’s the same in all human relations.

Many people refer to the twenty-first century as the “Asian Century”. Do you agree to this notion?

Well, we helped coin the phrase. The whole white paper by the Australian Government called Australia in the Asian Century is something that I conceived and helped develop. It was a proposition of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. I used to say: we want to put Australia in the right place, at the right time, in the Asian region, in the Asian Century. In Australia the term Asian Century is now very commonly used.

So you would say it is an accurate term to describe this century?

Yes, certainly. The modernisation of China and also India and countries of East Asia and South Asia is a momentous development in human history. It’s creating enormous opportunities for other countries that are competing to supply those countries with the products and services they want. At the same time there are also big challenges associated with it, because the world’s population is already seven billion people – it will hit nine billion people by 2050 – and there’s an enormous task to ensure that we can feed the world’s population. Increasingly so as the countries of the Asian region become more affluent, there will be a lot more middle-class customers and they will want higher quality and premium quality agricultural produce. So there is a big task of working out who can produce that and how we manage the ecological impacts. That’s what we seek to do with our work on Australia in the Asian Century, mapping out strategies and looking at the role Australia might play in meeting the food needs in particular.

Do you think in general it is the market that China creates that makes the twenty-first century “Asian”?

Pretty much. China’s population is more than 1.3 billion. India’s population will overtake China’s in the not too distant future as it has a much younger age profile than China’s population owing at least in part to China’s one-child policy. India will be in the market for dairy products and legumes, those sorts of things. It’s a different kind of market I think. But the demand for meat in particular will come from China, not from India.

At the same time people are wondering how China keeps its economic growth at the current rate. Do you think the Chinese economy is sustainable?

It used to grow at ten per cent per annum. It won’t do that in the future. But it will grow at a rate of more than six per cent per annum for the foreseeable future which in the world’s second largest economy is still a phenomenal growth rate. And if Western countries complain they can’t get a benefit out of this growth, they probably can’t succeed.

But there is no bubble that’s about to burst?

At six per cent there is no bubble, at seven per cent there’s no bubble. At ten per cent there can be. There have been property bubbles and ramifications down the track, but I think the Chinese are very attentive to the idea of avoiding bubbles and that’s why they are prepared to accept a slower, more sustainable growth rate. It’s a very conscious decision. In the twelfth Five-Year-Plan they’re shifting the emphasis from high investment, high export-led growth to domestic consumption. This way the benefits of growth will shift more equally across China. That’s a big driving force behind the growth strategy: sharing the benefits of growth.

Is business in China easy to do? Easier than elsewhere?

It’s a profoundly different place to what it was in 1984. I remember there were lots of false prophecies about China in the mid-1980s when a lot of Western countries went to China, failed and were very disillusioned with it. At that time there wasn’t a very well developed legal system, and on the other hand many of the Western companies thought they were going to make fabulous profits overnight, so it didn’t really work. But you have to start somewhere. And over time, it’s become better. In China, as in any other country, there is always room for improvement.

What would be your advice to young people who are studying Chinese studies and want to work with or even in China?

Go there! Just live in China. You’ll get enormous respect for it, and much greater understanding of China’s grand history than reading about it. It permeates every aspect of Chinese life. Chinese people are very well aware of their history and their cultural place in the world as they see it. You can read a dozen books about that, but if you go and live there, you get a much greater sense of it. The benefit of that is not only the adventure of it but the respect it would gain for young people in the eyes of the Chinese. They would see that it is a very big move to have made the effort and they will appreciate it.

Craig, thank you very much for this insightful interview!

Craig Emerson betreibt derzeit seine eigene Wirtschaftsberatung, die für asiatische und australische Unternehmen und Regierungen arbeitet.

Craig Emerson is the former Trade Minister for Australia. His consultancy provides strategic advice on government policy and establishing commercial relationships between businesses in Australia and the Asian region. His website is Craig Emerson Economics.

Titelbild Credit: Photo courtesy of Craig Emerson



Lewe Paul

Lewe hat Chinastudien an der Freien Universität Berlin studiert und in Australien einen Master in Asia Pacific Studies gemacht. Er ist begeistert von der chinesischen Sprache, liebt Taiwan und lebt zurzeit in Berlin.

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