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China: we must maintain goodwill but not be blind to their ambitions

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As the debate rages over how we should characterise regional concerns about China's expanding strategic and military footprint, we risk overlooking important aspects of our history and what we ought to do about that challenge.

Demonstrators stand in a cloud of tear gas during a protest in the Wong Tai Sin district of Hong Kong, China.Credit:Bloomberg

Interestingly, in some respects Victoria stands uniquely between our history with China and our future. Our relationship with the people of China is a long one and the place of Chinese migration in Australia's story is more than sentimental. It's colossal.

Victoria saw indentured Chinese labourers arrive in the late 1840s, prior to the population explosion and tumult of the gold rush. During the decades that would follow, Chinese immigrants would face violence and discrimination as concerns mounted about Chinese migration. The Immigration Restriction Act 1901 and Naturalisation Act 1903, passed shortly after federation, severely restricted Chinese immigration and would not be repealed for many decades.

Whilst it was certainly an unhappy beginning for so many, the relationship would gradually but haltingly improve until Communist rule from 1949, the year our embassy in China closed.

The early 1970s saw the establishment of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China under the Whitlam government, and further steps by the Fraser government........

© The Age