China is an ally of Australia's history and destiny, and their shared experiences are "far more meaningful" than the differences in tradition or political systems, Australian business magnate Andrew Forrest said at an event this week marking the Chinese New Year.
"Every step across the last 100 years of Australia's history, we have each helped each other for our mutual prosperity and our destiny," Forrest, who is chairman of iron ore giant Fortescue Metals Group, said in a keynote speech at the Australia China Business Council and China Chamber of Commerce in Australia new year gala in Perth, Western Australia, on Thursday.
China's importance as a major ally of Australia "has been neglected in recent times as we lose sight of our long-term national interests and international friendships and indulge in immature commentary," said Forrest.
The billionaire businessman and philanthropist called last year "Australia's 'annus horribilis' for its relationship with China," which was hit by growing concerns over Chinese influence in Australia's politics and economy.
"We have listened too much to immature alarmists and not enough to each other. We have neglected the nourishment of our greatest friendship -- China and Australia must nourish that friendship," said Forrest.
He highlighted China's "huge contribution" to the Allied effort in World War I -- "of the 680,000 men of the Chinese Labour Corps dispatched to both the Western and Eastern European Fronts, to help build railways, fortifications, and transport food and ammunition, 50,000 Chinese heroes died, roughly the same as Australia's entire war toll."
"The contribution of Chinese-Australians in World War I is also largely obscured. Young men with Chinese heritage by and large were victims of prejudice -- excluded from joining the Australian Imperial Forces -- but those who enlisted early were the exceptions and they became our very brave soldiers."
More than a century later, the rewards being reaped from the continuing close ties -- both sides "have benefited from China's epic and humanitarian quest to raise itself from poverty, an achievement like no other in history," said Forrest.
Australia's "miracle economy" of nearly three decades without a recession has drawn on "China's incredible growth and prosperity, built on its commitment to regional leadership and peace," he said.
"Their historic quest to pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in a single generation has also pulled us along in their wake" with Chinese buying nearly 30 percent of Australia's exports and making up 30 billion Australian dollars (23.3 billion U.S. dollars) of trade surplus in its current account, said Forrest.
"Government, business and commentators all have a role to play in our future and mature engagement," he added.
"I am hopeful that 2018 will mark a turning point in the China-Australia relationship and, from my own experience, there is plenty to celebrate," said Forrest.