The number of face-to-face meetings between Australian governor-generals and Chinese leaders and senior officials*, December 1972-August 2022:

* The vast majority of the Chinese leaders and senior officials captured here 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 governor-generals and senior Chinese representatives who did not hold CCP or Chinese government positions at those ranks (e.g., the meeting between Governor-General Ninian Stephen and former Vice Premier Gu Mu in 1987).

The above graph is still very much a work in progress and doubtless misses some meetings between Australian governor-generals and Chinese leaders and senior officials. This is especially likely to be true for the first decade or so of the relationship. For example, I haven’t yet tracked down whether Politburo member Ulanhu met the Governor-General during his visit to Australia in 1977. 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.

Meetings between Australian governor-generals and Chinese leaders are, of course, not the most significant measures of the state of high-level relations between Australia and China. Still, these meetings tell an instructive story given the importance that the Chinese government and communist party appear to attach to engagements with the (largely) ceremonial position of the Governor-General. Noting all these caveats about the limitations of this data, here are a few preliminary observations based on the data of Governor-General meetings:

  • Australia is currently experiencing the most sustained period since 1979 without engagement between the Governor-General and Chinese leaders and senior officials. This historical contrast is especially striking considering that governor-generals met with Chinese leaders and senior officials on average nearly two times each year in the ten-year period 2006-15.
  • At the Governor-General level, the freeze in high-level diplomatic relations between Canberra and Beijing after the Tiananmen Square Massacre only lasted three years (1989-91). This current curtailment of engagement at the level of Governor-General has lasted five years and counting (last update August 2022).
  • If Ulanhu met the Governor-General during his visit to Australia in 1977, the current period would be the most sustained period since the establishment of official relations without engagement between the Governor-General and Chinese leaders and senior officials.