“Supporting each other. It’s what friends do”.
That is the theme of a major nationwide advertising campaign launched in Australia by the Australia China Business Council (ACBC) on Feb 28 in support of China in its fight against the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
“Australia and China have both experienced a tragic start to the new year. We have been overwhelmed by the amount of Australian and Chinese companies offering donations and support to both countries. It’s a great testimony to the strong bonds between our two countries,” said Helen Sawczak, national CEO of ACBC.
“In the immediate aftermath of the coronavirus, we have worked closely with our members and stakeholders by providing information and support, and we have also been guiding people how to donate toward relief efforts,” she told China Daily.
“But we also wanted to send a strong message of support to our Chinese friends, that we stand with them during this crisis – that’s what friends do.”The campaign features in a full-page ad in newspapers, on Australian and Chinese social media platforms, and is even being projected at landmarks around Australia.
ACBC has more than 1,000 members and includes some of the biggest corporations in Australia, including airline Qantas and mining company Rio Tinto, as well as Chinese companies with a presence Down Under like telecom giant Huawei.
Many Australian companies are also members, including Homart, a specialist in manufacturing and marketing high-quality Australian health supplements.
“Since the company was formed back in 1993, Homart has always been a strong believer in contributing back to the community,” said a spokesperson for the company.
“We value our customers globally, and in support of the COVID-19 outbreak, Homart has donated 20,000 surgical masks and 24,000 shoe covers to the teams on the front line in China.
“By standing together, we become stronger as a world that aims to build a better future for everyone on our planet”.
Elizabeth Gaines, CEO of Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), said that as an Australian company with longstanding relationships in China, it is proud to be a part of the ACBC campaign.
“FMG has donated A$1 million ($656,200) to assist with the conversion of the WISCO Sports Stadium into a 388-bed shelter hospital,” she said, referring to the company’s efforts in Wuhan, Hubei province, the city which suffers most from novel coronavirus.
“We have also donated thousands of face masks to support health workers. We will continue to look for other ways to provide practical help, and the ACBC campaign sends the critical signal that we stand together in friendship.”
ACBC members also include universities, one of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy, with 100,000 students locked out of Australia due to the outbreak.
Michael Spence, vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney, said: “This campaign is an important reminder that our relationship with China is deep and longstanding.
“Our connection extends back almost a century to when we welcomed our first exchange student in 1923, and since then our relationship has grown and strengthened,” he said.
“We deeply value and are proud of the contribution all our international students make to the academic and cultural life of the university, and we encourage everyone to continue to be respectful and compassionate.”
Spence added: “I would encourage all our Chinese students to stay strong during this time of crisis, and we look forward to welcoming them in Sydney soon.”
ACBC’s Sawczak said the organization’s members were very concerned about the coronavirus outbreak.
“This is not like SARS in 2003,” she said. “Back then the Chinese economy was not as integrated into the global economy as it now is. The economic impact is much more profound.
“What we are trying to do is send a strong message to China that this is not a China issue; it is a global crisis.”
During the recent bushfires that devastated many parts of Australia, Chinese businesses at home and in Australia responded with offers of aid and assistance, Sawczak said.
“What we are saying now, in China’s hour of need, is we are with them, we are behind them and will stand with them during this crisis. And when it’s over, we will resume business with our No 1 trading partner.”
Members from the travel and university sectors are already predicting major losses in the billions of dollars, with 100,000 Chinese students enrolled at Australian universities stuck overseas due to the travel ban.
The Australian hospitality sector has seen its biggest market slump. China is now the country’s biggest source of tourists with 1.4 million visiting last year, while fresh food suppliers have seen their biggest market collapse.
“For the tourism industry, the coronavirus is nothing short of a disaster,” Sawczak said.
“The problem is that no one knows how long this will last. It is spreading into other countries, and Australia along with many other countries is now preparing for a pandemic. And when that happens, everything will go into lockdown. Everything will stop.
“If you are a builder in Melbourne and waiting for a component … most likely it will be coming from China. But you won’t be able to get it because nothing will be moving.”
Sawczak said Australia is dependant on China for its economic well-being.
“We have a free trade agreement that’s second to none, where 99 percent of goods traded with China are tariff-free. Our businesses want to be in China, and we want to reinforce that.
“We want to let the (Chinese) people know we are standing by them,” she added.