International Business | Diversity and Migration | Human Resources | Asia-Pacific

Immigrants Facilitate Australia’s Economic Engagement with China

Fast Facts:

  • Chinese immigrants have facilitated Australia’s realignment from a Euro-centric nation to a “part of Asia” with strong economic ties to Greater China.
  • Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan, who tend to be entrepreneurial, provide Australian companies with technological and management knowhow.
  • More recent arrivals from Mainland China bring knowledge of Chinese market conditions and access to business networks that ease the entry of Australian firms into the Chinese market.

Ethnic Chinese living outside of Greater China have been labeled a “trade diaspora” because they engage in trading and entrepreneurial activities at a greater rate than other overseas ethnic groups. Research by Rosalie Tung, the Ming and Stella Wong Professor of International Business at SFU’s Beedie School of Business, and Henry Chung of New Zealand’s Massey University looks at the business activities of one particular group of overseas Chinese: Chinese immigrants in Australia. 

The ethnic Chinese diaspora in Australia represents an especially interesting case, as Chinese immigrants have played a large role in Australia’s reorientation from a Euro-centric nation to “part of Asia,” with strong economic ties to China and other Asian countries. At the beginning of the 20th century, Australia’s government responded to an influx of Chinese immigrants by enacting the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, which ended all non-European immigration into the country. This “White Australia” policy was abandoned in 1973, when Australia opened its doors to Asian immigrants in order to grow its population. Greater China, including Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, has subsequently emerged as one of the top sources of immigration to Australia. Ethnic Chinese now make up 3.6% of Australia’s population, with higher concentrations in major cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. In 2008, China replaced Japan as Australia’s largest trading partner, and Australia has become a major destination for Chinese foreign direct investment. In 2015, after ten years of negotiations, the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement went into effect. Today, nearly 30% of Australian exports go to China.

Tung and Chung’s research, which examined 135 Australian firms with operations in Greater China, is in line with what studies on Chinese diasporas in other countries have shown: Chinese immigrants employed by Australian firms, by virtue of their social ties with China, their knowledge of local market conditions, and their familiarity with customers, host government regulations, culture, languages, and customs, have contributed significantly to growing trade and investment between Australia and China. According to the researchers, there is a commonality shared among ethnic Chinese to “trade with Mainland China and participate in the fruits of the Chinese economic miracle.” Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan, who have a greater tendency to participate in entrepreneurial activities, provide companies with technological and management knowhow, while more recent arrivals to Australia from Mainland China possess an up-to-date understanding of Chinese market conditions and access to business networks which can facilitate the entry of Australian firms into the Greater China market.

The economic contributions of Chinese immigrants also help to explain why Australia enjoys a unique and advantageous place in the global economy. Tung and Chung write that, with Australia’s economic fate becoming more inextricably intertwined with that of the Asia Pacific, Australian firms are in a position to “take advantage of the changing demographic profile in their country—namely, the influx of immigrants from Greater China—to advance their export and trade agendas with these countries.”