This is reflected in the shifting nature of Chinese investment into Australia with the top three investment targets in 2016 being commercial real estate, infrastructure and healthcare.
According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Austrade in 2016 skincare product sales grew 82 per cent to $A35 million, whole and skim milk powder 54 per cent to $A162 million and – for those who thought it was all about milk – wine 38 per cent to $A470 million.
The list of China-Australia investment stories outside of the traditional resources continues to grow, including the New Hope purchase of Kilcoy Pastoral, COFCO of Tully Sugar and Bright Food of Manassen Foods.
Speaking at the ACBC day, Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop drew attention to the new Colombo Plan which educates foreign students in Australia and over the years has paid enormous dividends by way of greater understanding as these students returned to positions of influence in their home countries. One fifth of applications today are from China.
She noted this year alone 1.4 million Chinese will visit Australia while more than 500,000 Australia citizens will head to China.
The cumulative impact of this investment and what is often called 'soft power' – cultural exchange – is bringing Australia and China together. And that’s not to gloss over the still enormous cultural, political and public differences.
But ACBC chairman and former Victorian premier John Brumby perhaps captured the nuance the best as he addressed questions around the perceptions of rising tensions.
“I would be careful not to put these things out of context, the world is a very tumultuous place, but I would say a lot of what we see is background noise,” he noted, adding the differences should not be allowed to impact on “a deep and fruitful relationship”.
Brumby made the point he had been around the block a few times in his political career and tension and differences of opinion were inevitable. Before China the debate was over Japan, even the US. The key was to recognise and develop areas of mutual interest, he said.
What is indisputable is the Australia-China relationship, especially economically, is of mutual interest.
Andrew Cornell is bluenotes managing editor