Prime Ministers Series: Fraser and China

August 17 2015

The Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) presented a tribute to former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and his work with Australia–China relations on August 17 2015 in Melbourne. The event was hosted by Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

The Right Honourable Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister from November 11 1975 to March 5 1983. In 1976 his first overseas visit was to Japan and China rather than to traditional allies Britain and the United States. It was a historical year in China with the deaths of Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong, the Tangshan earthquake and the demise of the Gang of Four. Mr Fraser visited China as Prime Minister for the second time in 1982.

With a history of hostility towards China as a Liberal backbencher and then as Minister for the Army and Minister for Defence, Fraser went on to pursue the relationship as a priority. Under Mr Fraser’s leadership Australia was the first country to strike a bilateral aid agreement with China.

He established the Australia-China Council in 1978. Between 1977 and 1984 Australia’s trade with China more than doubled from $525.5 million to $1.2 billion, reflecting an annual growth rate of 12.3 percent. In 1980, two years after Deng Xiaoping began economic reforms, the Fraser Cabinet decided on an expansion of the relationship. This involved negotiating a protocol to the 1973 trade agreement, establishing a development assistance programme, furthering exchanges in the fields of agriculture, health and social sciences and committing to a regular series of official talks. During Vice Premier Li Xiannian’s visit to Australia in 1980, Mr Fraser announced the largest ever block sale to China of Australian sugar.

The panel discussion was moderated by ACRI Director Bob Carr.

Listen to the full audio of the discussion at the soundcloud link below.

View the full event photo gallery here.


About the panellists

Professor John Fitzgerald, Director, Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Impact & Philanthropy, Swinburne University of Technology

Professor John Fitzgerald is the Director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Investment & Philanthropy at Swinburne University and Florence Williams Chair in the Centre for Social Impact. He also serves concurrently as President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Before joining Swinburne in 2013 John served five years as Representative of The Ford Foundation in Beijing where he directed the Foundation's China operations. Previously he was Head of the School of Social Sciences at La Trobe University and directed the International Centre of Excellence in Asia-Pacific Studies at the Australian National University. In Canberra he served as Chair of the Education Committee of the Australia-China Council of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and as chair of the Committee for National and International Cooperation of the Australian Research Council. His most recent book, Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia, was awarded the Ernest Scott Prize for most distinguished work on Australian or New Zealand History by the Australian Historical Association in 2008 and wasshortlisted for the Prime Minister's History Prize, Queensland Premier's Prize for Non-Fiction and NSW Premier's History Prize.

Associate Professor James Curran, Department of History and the US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

A/Professor James Curran teaches courses in Australian political culture and foreign policy and the history of America's relations with the world at the University of Sydney. He is also the University of Sydney's Deputy Pro-Dean for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Arts. In 2013 he was the Keith Cameron Professor of Australian History at University College Dublin, and in 2010 held the DFAT/ Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Australia-US Alliance Studies at Georgetown University in Washington DC. His most recent book Unholy Fury: Nixon and Whitlam at War (2015, Melbourne University Press), funded by an ARC Discovery Project, explores the history of the Australia/US Alliance in the age of Richard Nixon and Gough Whitlam. Prior to joining academia, he served in various roles in the Australian Public Service, including in the Prime Minister's Department and the Office of National Assessments.


Further reading

Stephen Minas, "The lessons learned from Fraser's Chinese diplomacy", Business Spectator, September 11 2015.

Event Gallery


Event Information
August 17 2015
8:30 PM
Corrs Chambers Westgarth
Level 25
567 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000