The Australia-China Council was established by the Australian Government in 1978 to develop 'people-to-people' relations between Australia and China. Since that time the Council has played an important role in broadening the range of contacts between the two countries beyond traditional areas of official and governmental interaction. In its early years in particular, the Council focused on breaking into new areas of contact and exchange between Australia and China. As the relationship developed, the Council refined its priorities to support the promotion of greater mutual awareness and understanding by initiating and supporting a range of projects in the fields of education, culture, media, business, and science and technology. While there has been substantial expansion of the Australia-China relationship over the past two decades, the Council remains an important means initiating and supporting activities that complement and underpin official contacts so as to further strengthen cooperative relations between Australia and China.
In October 1998 the Council reviewed its direction and activities to ensure that council priorities and activities complemented the current mature and broad relationship between Australia and China. A three-year strategic plan for the period 1999-2002 was developed in the second half of 1998 and adopted formally at the Council's 71st meeting on 27 October 1998. The Council's strategic plan, developed in consultation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Australian government representatives in China, was presented to the Minister for Foreign Affairs in December 1998. Council agreed to focus on the following two priority objectives under its overall guiding mission:
The Council resolved to initiate, develop and support programs and activities in the key areas of education, culture and publishing, and business to support these objectives in line with the following broad goals:
- To support the further development of Australian Studies in China through a range of visiting academic programs, the biennial Conference on Australian Studies and infrastructure grants to Australian Studies centres.
- To promote greater awareness and understanding of China in Australia through programs for students to study in China.
Culture and publishing
- To encourage and support cultural activities and exchanges in all aspects of the arts (including dance, literature, music, new media arts, theatre, visual arts and craft) and sporting activities.
- To encourage and support the publication of material that will bring about increased understanding of contemporary Australia within China and of contemporary China within Australia.
- To develop pilot projects that demonstrate how the Council can assist the Australian business sector in its dealings with China.
- To develop a cadre of young graduates with intercultural skills and a practical understanding of doing business with China.
To oversee these priority areas of activity the Council agreed to retain the committee structure agreed at its 69th meeting on 16 February 1998. Committee 2 was renamed following review of the Council's support for publishing and translation programs at its 72nd meeting on 25 February 1999. The following committees were agreed at that meeting:
Committee 1. Education
Committee 2. Culture
Committee 3. Business
Committee 4. Funding and Communication
Under its strategic plan the Council adopted a set of broad guiding principles that would help characterise and define the scope and nature of its activities. These guiding principles were: