40th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations

2012 marked the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Australia. It is an important milestone for the rapidly expanding relationship between the two countries.

Beijing, 1973 - Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam meets Chairman Mao Zedong during Australia's first official Prime-Ministerial visit to the People's Republic of China after the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1972. Video courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive. Permission granted by the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Australia.

The 40th Anniversary offered us an opportunity to reflect on the evolution of Australia-China relations and consider new ideas and initiatives to strengthen, enrich and deepen our future.

These are some of the many projects initiated during 2012 to celebrate the Anniversary.

Beyond the Cables: Australian Ambassadors to China 1972-2012 Oral History Project

The Australia-China Council and National Library of Australia have established a partnership to develop a unique project that tracks the history of 40 years of Australia-China diplomatic engagement through the eyes of Australian Ambassadors.

The Project produced extended interviews with Australia's former and current Ambassadors to China. The interviews are available to public through the National Library online catalogue. The interviews serve as an important education, reference, communication and advocacy resource. This initiative is an important element of the program of activities and events to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of diplomatic relations with China.

Since 1960, the National Library has recorded oral-history interviews with Australians who have distinguished themselves in many fields, including law, the media, politics and government, the armed forces, industry and commerce, education, science, and the arts.

We hope that the project will be an important and useful contribution to the public debate about the Australia-China relationship as well as a valuable public-diplomacy, research and education resource.

Photo Gallery of the Official Launch of the Project on 12 December 2012

Project Catalogue at the National Library

Completed interviews (available online):

Hugh Dunn

Dennis Argall

Dr Allan Thomas

Garry Woodard

Geoff Raby

Gough Whitlam and the road to establishing formal relations with the People's Republic of China: the significance for contemporary Australian-Chinese relations

An initiative by the Whitlam Institute at the University of Western Sydney supported by the Australia-China Council that explores a key role played by the former Prime Minister, the Hon Gough Whitlam AC QC in the development of Australia-China relations.

As a key part of the project, the Whitlam Institute has published a paper The Coup that Laid the Fear of China by Australia's first Ambassador to the People's Republic of China Dr Stephen FitzGerald AO.

In his essay, Dr Fitzgerald provides a unique first-hand account of Whitlam's historic 1971 China visit. He also examines political, social and cultural shifts and undercurrents in Australia at that time that led to Gough Whitlam's decision to visit China, and later in 1972 establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China.

The Coup that Laid the Fear of China, Dr Stephen FitzGerald AO

The second element of the project is an online exhibition 'Whitlam and China' which tracks through visual, multimedia and historical materials an extraordinary journey which led to the establishment of the formal diplomatic ties between Australia and China and paved the way to the comprehensive engagement which is the bilateral relationship is now.

'Whitlam and China' Online Exhibition

Australia and China at 40

Australia and China at 40 - Publication by the University of Sydney China Studies Centre, edited by Dr James Reilly and Professor Jingdong Yuan. The book of 10 essays by leading Australian and Chinese experts surveys the multiple facets of Sino-Australia relations.

The book was launched by Senator Bob Carr, Minister for Foreign Affairs at Parliament House, August, 2012.

Additional Resources

Australian Embassy in China - 40th Anniversary events

National Archives of Australia: Australia's diplomatic relations with China

Making Change: Celebrating the 40 Years of Australia–China Diplomatic Relations

‘Making Change’ is a an exhibition of innovative film and photo-based art by 24 of Australia’s foremost contemporary artists held at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing in November-December 2012 and the College of Fine Arts in Sydney in July-August 2013. Making Change was produced and presented by the Australian Centre for Photography, the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, and the National Art Museum of China.

40th anniversary of Australia-China diplomatic relations essay competition organized by the University of Sydney’s China Studies Centre

Australia China: Beyond Tomorrow publications - an initiative of Roxby Media and the Australia China Business Council

Book cover

Last Updated: 13 November 2013
Australia-China 40 years of diplomatic relations
Ambassador, Dr. Stephen Fitzgerald
Ambassador Dr Stephen Fitzgerald 1973 – 1976. Dr Stephen Fitzgerald, seen here with Premier Zhou Enlai, was Australia's first Ambassador to the People's Republic of China. (Image courtesy of the National Library)
Ambassador, Hugh Dunn
Ambassador Hugh Dunn AO 1980 – 1984 Mr Hugh Dunn AO is seen here next to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser at the signing of a bilateral agreement. Courtesy: The University of Melbourne Archives
Ambassador, Frances Adamson
Ambassador Frances Adamson 2011 – Present, Former Foreign Minister Bob Carr with Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang and Australia's Ambassador to China Frances Adamson in Beijing on 15 May, 2012 (Image courtesy of DFAT)