Published: 11:05, December 21, 2022 | Updated: 11:31, December 21, 2022
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Mutual growth in digital economy, infrastructure for China, Australia
By ​Yuan Shenggao

Business leaders from both countries praise value of opportunities

Workers lift an internal combustion engine vehicle, which is to be exported to Australia, in Yibin Port, Sichuan province. (ZHUANG GE'ER / XINHUA)

China and Australia are expected to deepen their economic and trade relations in the digital economy, infrastructure and beyond, adding fresh growth momentum to both sides and injecting more vitality into the global economic recovery, said experts and business leaders from both sides.

Calling for continuous progress in bilateral relations on a track of friendship and cooperation, they said the growth momentum generated by Australia's Digital Economy Strategy 2030 and the tangible development of the Belt and Road Initiative will help generate more growth tenets in the future.

Australia's Digital Economy Strategy 2030 sets out the pathways to guide future actions and establish ambitious targets.

It will be continually renewed to realize its vision of being a leading digital economy and society by 2030.

These targets include a five-year plan for the Oceanian country to increase its number of digital agreements with like-minded partners, according to information released by the Australian government.

It also flags the emerging technologies of artificial intelligence, the internet of things, data analytics, blockchain and quantum computing as key instruments of change.

The digital economy mainly entails business resulting from the digital transformation of traditional economic activities powered by the internet, electronic means and data, according to information released by the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, the think tank of China's Ministry of Commerce.

Chen Wenling, chief economist at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges in Beijing, said China's stable domestic market and surging trade activities with partners involved in the BRI, along with its fast-growing 5G technologies, can help Australia build better "new infrastructure" facilities to further boost economic growth.

Unlike traditional infrastructure such as railways, roads and water conservancy, the concept of new infrastructure refers to critical facilities based on information technologies like 5G, AI, industrial internet and the IoT.

By launching a series of new infrastructure investment programs to provide basic support for industrial upgrading and scientific and technological development, China has not only created market demand but also maintained a stable production and R&D environment, she said.

David Olsson, national president and chairman of the Australia China Business Council, said he expects Australian companies with expertise in energy transition technologies, environmental services, smart grid management, project design, project management and green finance to continue being active and engaged in BRI-related projects.

There is no credible emissions pathway toward limiting global warming to 1.5 C without significant movements from China over the next decade to accelerate its energy transition and decarbonization.

China, as the main finance and trade partner of many BRI countries, can play a key role in the green and low-carbon transition of their economies, Olsson said.

Similar views were expressed by Daryl Guppy, president of the Australia China Business Council's Northern Territory subcouncil, who said the BRI is a major contributor to economic growth in areas that have been ignored by other development programs.

The BRI's hard infrastructure includes long-term investments in high-speed rails, roads and bridges that have accelerated the development of Central Asia as an economic force and changed the way underdeveloped geographic areas are able to access global markets, he said.

Echoing that sentiment, Adam Handley, a partner and China market leader at Australian multinational law firm MinterEllison, noted that the BRI can bring a slew of opportunities for Australian companies of all sizes across a broad range of sectors and industries.

The areas where Australian companies can get involved in the BRI include project financing, design, procurement, construction, sales and application of Australian know-how, according to Handley.

The BRI presents an opportunity for Australian companies in the agribusiness, infrastructure and energy sectors to expand their export markets and attract domestic investment capital, he said.

"Chinese investment has played a major role in supporting economic growth within my own home state in Western Australia," Handley said. "Since the significant increase in interest in investing in Australia from 2007, Western Australia has benefited from a large number of Chinese investments in energy and other sectors."

Those investments have created thousands of local jobs and generated hundreds of millions of dollars in taxation and royalty revenues for the people of Western Australia as well as bringing about know-how, he added. In some sectors, like in the processing of Western Australia's magnetite iron ore, this has helped open new export markets for the region.

In addition to exporting a large number of freight trains to meet Australia's demand for transporting natural resources and commodities such as iron ore and coal, China Railway Rolling Stock Corp, the world's largest supplier of rail transit equipment by sales revenue, said the Chinese company is eyeing more orders in the country's passenger train market in the coming years.

The Chinese train maker put 65 high-capacity metro trains into operation for the Melbourne suburban network in late 2020. These trains have a higher operating speed and can cross the metro tunnel within several minutes. Furthermore, their capacity is over 20 percent larger than existing trains, with bigger space and more seats.

"In addition, the driver simulator supplied can simulate any situation of the road network, even including weather conditions, and can be used to train drivers," said Wang Yingsheng, deputy director of project research center of Jilin province-based CRRC Changchun Railway Vehicles Co, a CRRC subsidiary and the trains' manufacturer.

As demand for environmentally friendly public transport vehicles is rising in many parts of the world, particularly in China, Australia and Europe, the first hydrogen-powered bus developed and manufactured by China's Jiangxi Kama Business Bus, or Bonluck Bus, was put into operation in Australia late last year.

"The bus was the first of its kind in Australia," said Li Han, vice-president of Bonluck Bus, a subsidiary of State-owned China National Machinery Industry Corp that is based in Nanchang, Jiangxi province.

With a maximum endurance mileage of 692 kilometers, the bus has a stainless steel and aluminum structure as well as a long life span. It can be refueled within three to 10 minutes.

All 41 buses of this kind had been delivered to the company's Australian client by the end of 2021. They have promoted upgrades of energy solutions and green transportation development in the country, Li said.

Bonluck Bus is the first Chinese bus manufacturer to enter the Australian market.

The company has exported nearly 3,000 buses, including diesel buses, hybrid buses and electric buses, to Australia.