China is Australia's biggest customer. Australian Bureau of Statistics data show that in 2010, the value of Australian exports to China was nearly 65 billion AUD. Moreover, Australia sells more to China than it imports. So the trade is at the core of the Australia-China relationship. But what about people- to-people contact? The first inflow of Chinese people to Australia came during the gold rushes of the 1850's, so there is a long history – in Australian terms – of intercultural contact.
This year, the celebration of Australia Day coincided with Chinese New Year. Two celebrations of culture and identity overlapping. So how do Chinese people living in Australia see Australia Day?
Australian of the Year, Geoffrey Rush, told ABC Breakfast how it was "mind-blowing" to know many contributions to the Australian community were made by its citizens who were from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Marita Cheng, the Young Australian of the Year, was one of the examples he mentioned in the interview.
However, there appears to be a tangible but subtle gap between the Chinese community and the general public in the participation of Australia Day.
While the Australian community as a whole was celebrating the national day by hosting a number of events across the country, the Chinese community seems to be left out despite being part of the Australian community.
A Chinese permanent resident named Kelly, (who doesn't want to give her surname), says in her three years in the country, this is the first Australia Day she has witnessed because she was away in China with her family in other years. Kelly, aged 46, said she believed young people were more interested in Australia Day activities.
"I don't usually get involved in the community events because I am quite busy working and raising my kid and I don't have extra energy for other things, she said. As migrants my relatives and I in our age group are very busy for things unlike the Chinese youngsters who have support from their family overseas or in Australia," she said.
But a recent university graduate, Yu Wang, says she is not aware of the Australia Day events except the parade. "I have been here for two years but I haven't heard of much celebration for Australia Day," she said. Ms Wang said neither did she feel much celebration of Chinese New Year in the Australian atmosphere. But she said she still celebrated it with her friends. "As for Chinese New Year Celebration, it's a must; it's just like having breakfast everyday because it's that essential," she said.
A Chinese international student agent, Devis Chiu, says he was playing Pictionary with his friends on Australia Day and did not know much about any celebration for the national day of Australia as well. He said he believed his clients (Chinese international students) like him did not know much about the activities associated with Australia Day.
"I was not invited for the Australia Day activities because my friends do not have much information on this. But if we know there is something on we'd really love to go and be part of it," he said.
Doris Yeh, a Taiwanese national on a working holiday visa, said she did not know there was any Australia Day celebrations for the Australia Day in her city in Brisbane either but she would like to participate if she had the information.
"All the people in my house (those on working holiday visas) stayed at home on the Australia Day," she said.
According to the ABS, less than two percent of residents in Australia in 2010 were born in China; moreover, an estimated number of around 25,000 students from China contributed to the Australian population growth through net overseas immigration. So why the disconnect? Connection plays a critical role in the collectivist mindset in the Chinese community.
Why it is that Chinese people don't know much about Australia Day celebrations? Is it because they did not have any friends who are local enough to invite them to the events? And why is it that they don't have a close friendship with the locals here? Is it because of cultural differences or their English ability? Or even is it because of the perception from the wider community thrown at them?
Kelly says that if she had time on Australia Day, she would rather spend it with friends and family. But as for the young people, they're not aware of the community events unless their social group talks about it.