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China no cold war foe, says Packer

JAMES Packer today will urge Australian business leaders, politicians and bureaucrats to "stop treating China like it is the cold war", suggesting it should be made "almost compulsory" for all senior executives and bureaucrats to visit the world's largest economy to help build better corporate and political ties.

Following the launch of the government's Asian Century white paper, which outlines 25 key objectives to build stronger ties with Asia, the Crown executive chairman will tell an audience in Canberra of his amazement at the number of senior corporate leaders, public servants and MPs who have not visited China "and still view it through western eyes, as a communist state".

"You cannot possibly afford to be in a position of power and not have visited mainland China," he says.

"Going through Hong Kong in transit on your way to Europe doesn't qualify. Many bureaucrats and business people who haven't been to China have no appreciation of how much it has changed and how much the country is doing to lift its people out of poverty," Mr Packer will tell the Tourism and Transport Forum's Leadership 2012 Tourism, Aviation and Transport Infrastructure summit.

 

"It should almost be compulsory for all senior executives and government officials to make a trip to China and gain an appreciation of how the country has changed. That's the best way for our policy makers and business leaders to appreciate the scale of the opportunity in our region."

While Mr Packer has welcomed the white paper, noting it "is a big step in the right direction" he believes the challenge for politicians on both sides of politics and corporate leaders is to "have the courage to go even further". He wants business to take the lead.

"We need to build the new relationship with Asia through language, culture, education, sport and of course commerce," he will tell the audience. "We also need to stop treating China like it's the cold war and recognise that our two countries have a long and proud history together."

His comments come after other corporate leaders such as Seven Group chairman Kerry Stokes and a range of company directors from blue-chip companies including TAL, BlueScope Steel, QBE Insurance Group, Perpetual, Westfield, Suncorp and Toll Holdings have said business has failed to properly understand or embrace Asia, and especially China.

Mr Packer will today commend Tourism Australia and Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson for speeding up tourist-visa procedures for Chinese and Asian tourists.

But he wants Australia to adopt online processing and to investigate other measures to streamline the visa process, using Singapore as a benchmark.

His comments come after his casino group Crown received initial approval last week from a NSW cabinet committee to build and operate Sydney's first six-star resort hotel at Barangaroo.

He will tell the audience today that his decision to sell out of media and invest in gaming was also an endorsement of the future of the Australian tourism industry.

"It fascinated me, that for months, many commentators kept speculating that I might buy back into Channel Nine. It says to me, they have totally misunderstood what I am trying to achieve with Crown, and why I am shifting into an industry I believe has a very positive future," Mr Packer will say.

"My family has been involved in the media game since 1918. The media is in my blood. I didn't make the move to leave the industry lightly. But when I look at the business opportunities over the coming decade, I see Australian tourism as one of the industries that will benefit most from the booming middle class in China and across Asia."

Crown yesterday avoided a second strike against its remuneration policies, with 93.3 per cent of shares voted at its annual general meeting in Perth in favour, after some 55 per cent of votes were lodged against it last year.

A second strike would have triggered a spill of the board.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING: PAUL GARVEY