The number of face-to-face meetings between Australian prime ministers and governor-generals and Chinese leaders and senior officials*, December 1972-August 2022:
* The vast majority of the Chinese leaders and senior officials captured in the above dataset are Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials at the level of Politburo or above or Chinese government officials at the level of Minister or above. In a small number of cases, the data includes meetings between prime ministers and governor-generals and senior Chinese representatives who did not hold CCP or Chinese government positions at those ranks (e.g., former Vice Premier Gu Mu’s meetings in 1987 with Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Governor-General Ninian Stephen). Although the inclusion of these meetings can certainly be debated given that they may not carry the same import as a true leader-level meeting, I err on the side of adding them given the prime ministerial and governor-general participation.
The database on which the above graph is based is still very much a work in progress and doubtless misses some face-to-face meetings between Australian prime ministers and governor-generals and Chinese leaders and senior officials. This is especially likely to be true of the first decade or so of the formal diplomatic relationship. The absence of any in-person meetings in 2000 also appears odd in the context of typically more than two such meetings between 1992 and 2019. Any corrections or additions that readers might be able to offer would be gratefully received. I’ll continue updating and correcting this graph as I capture more datapoints.
Noting these caveats, here are a couple of preliminary observations:
- Australia is currently experiencing the most sustained period since 1989-91 without engagement between the Prime Minister/Governor-General and Chinese leaders and senior officials. This historical contrast is especially striking considering that prime ministers and governor-generals met with Chinese leaders and senior officials on average more than six times each year in the ten-year period 2006-15.
- Since the freeze in high-level engagement between Canberra and Beijing after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Australia-China relationship has not experienced such a sustained break in face-to-face meetings between prime ministers and governor-generals and Chinese leaders and senior officials. This current curtailment of engagement at the level of Prime Minister/Governor-General has lasted more than two years since November 2019 (last update August 2022).
- Even in the 1970s and 1980s—when face-to-face meetings between Australian and Chinese leaders and senior officials were much less frequent—the longest period without a meeting for the Governor-General or Prime Minister was the period of April 1973 to June 1976. Leaving aside the post-Tiananmen Square Massacre collapse in leader-level meetings, one would need to go back to the very earliest years of the Australia-China relationship to find a longer gap in face-to-face meetings at the leader level.