Australia’s China Knowledge Capability: University teaching, research,and future needs

DOWNLOAD FULL DOCUMENT : Australias-China-Knowledge-Capability-report-1.pdf (


Her Excellency the Honourable Frances Adamson AC
Governor of South Australia
November 2022

This report aims to understand how Australia can best pursue its national
interest by knowing China better. It “sets the scene for a long-term agenda
to develop the capability we need to discern and pursue Australia’s interests
in the relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).” Growing our
sovereign China knowledge capability directly impacts upon what is one of
Australia’s most important bilateral relationships, and certainly its
most challenging.
Put simply, Australia’s China capacity is central to the national interest.
It will be evident to all who read this report that it is a product of wide-ranging
and thorough consultations. I congratulate its authors. Many of those with
China expertise will find their experiences reflected in its pages, and I hope
it will be studied closely by policy makers, university administrators, public
servants, and all those who need to heed its call to action.
The report does not make overt recommendations, but it offers a sound basis
for considering how to best develop the knowledge we need, and better
utilise the resources we presently have, including Australians with
heritage language backgrounds. For a wider audience, it presents an
opportunity to learn, understand, and then respond to the challenges laid
out so clearly here.
It may not be immediately apparent to all why, in a world which celebrates
generalists, China-specific knowledge is so necessary. As Ambassador to
China, I saw daily the need for China knowledge capability. As Secretary of
the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), my conviction grew,
while the Department, alongside Government more broadly, attempted
to navigate a difficult period in our bilateral relationship. Now, as Governor
of South Australia, I see the benefits that flow from that capability across
industry, agriculture, science, and the educational sector, among others. I
draw some lessons from these experiences.
First, deep knowledge of a country reduces the risk of strategic
miscalculation – a real danger in an increasingly volatile world. When one
nation has the capacity to really understand the workings of another’s
political system, the chances of an escalating cycle of misunderstood signals
and misconceived responses diminishes. What’s more, we can convey our
concerns in ways most likely to register and least likely to offend.
Second, China knowledge allows us to orient our relationship effectively
towards positive outcomes. A great deal has been written about the
importance of a stable Australia–China relationship. What will this
relationship look like? A stable Australia–China relationship will still involve
significant areas of disagreement, not all of which will lend themselves
to active management. There will also be some areas where we may be
coming towards agreement, with effort and time. Smallest in number, at least
at first, will be those issues on which agreement can currently be reached.
We, as a nation, will need the collective knowledge and skill to know which
are which. Only then can we target our efforts on the diplomatic endeavours
most likely to bear fruit. This task requires China expertise.
The analysis contained in this report speaks to the quality of an ongoing
national debate. As it highlights, this is a debate that has perhaps suffered
in recent years. The drivers of this change are many and varied – readers
will certainly gain insight from the pages that follow. Many readers
without China-specific knowledge will have strong views on China and
its relationship with Australia. This is only right and proper, and our nation
benefits from the opportunity to hear from a diversity of voices.
As a society, however, we need to leave room for those with expertise to
express and develop their views. If experts, particularly young experts, feel
uncomfortable voicing their opinions publicly, we will stagnate in the areas
this report identifies as most urgently requiring improvement. Many in the
China space are familiar with Deng Xiaoping’s maxim of ‘hide and bide’.
This is not a tactic that those most qualified to contribute to a debate should
feel compelled to adopt.
Many other obstacles stand in the way of Australians developing the
China skills our nation needs. As we all recognise, in-country experience
is hugely valuable for building the capability which Australia requires. At
a time when pandemic-related travel restrictions remain in place, this
is harder to achieve than at almost any other time in the past 50 years.
Nevertheless, it remains a key objective, and something I would urge the
National Foundation for Australia-China Relations to bear down on, just as
the Australia-China Council did 50 years ago.
A word of encouragement to students. China remains one of the most
fascinating places on our planet, and I hope you remain motivated in your
endeavours to better understand it. In Australia, you have access to worldleading teachers and academics. You will face challenges, some of which
are outlined in this report, but those who have gone before you have left a
trail for you to follow.
As this report is published, Australia and China celebrate 50 years of
bilateral relations. I have been privileged to have had, for many of those
years, a direct vantage point on this relationship and its ebbs and flows.
This report comes at a pivotal time and provides a vital opportunity to
reassess the ways in which we develop the capacity to understand and
shape what lies ahead.

DOWNLOAD FULL DOCUMENT : Australias-China-Knowledge-Capability-report-1.pdf (


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here