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WA looks to China — the land of endless opportunity

All roads have led to China for the Premier this past week as he fulfilled an election commitment to visit the communist juggernaut and worked to assure an exasperated tourism sector that his Government would give it some much-needed mouth-to-mouth.

It became pretty obvious when word got out of a private sit-down in Shanghai between Mark McGowan and the boss of airline China Eastern that the panacea for driving tourism and the economy in WA is not viewed as rocket science.

Convince airlines — particularly one operating from a city of 27 million people and with a burgeoning middle class — to bring passengers to the west coast of Australia and let them spend their money.

At least twice on the Premier’s trip he heard from Chinese officials that Sydney and Melbourne were the first two places that leapt to people’s minds when Australia got mentioned in the land of the dragon.

Premier Mark McGowan meeting Shanghai Mayor Mr Ying Yong.
Premier Mark McGowan meeting Shanghai Mayor Mr Ying Yong.Picture: Daniel Pastorelli

“Our kangaroos are better than those on the east coast,” McGowan insisted to one audience.

The one-liner was masking a belief that he and many tourism operators desperate for more bums on seats share.

China and Japan were not given the love and attention required to encourage growth in tourism numbers by the previous government.

“The last time a tourism minister was in Japan under the former government was 2012,” McGowan said.

“The last time a tourism minister was in China was 2011. Our minister is on his second visit to both countries in two months. You have to build the relationships.”

It goes without saying that the market potential in China is too great to quantify in a country with almost 1.4 billion people.

There are cities of more than 10 million people that West Australians would never have heard of.

You are bedazzled by the sea of humanity and how it manages to function under the control and law of one system — communism — with more than a smattering of capitalism, judging by the Ferraris and Lamborghinis that cruise along the illuminated streets of Shanghai.

It’s not until you witness a police officer approaching a group of people forming on a street corner to listen to someone speaking in hushed tones that you realise that silence is golden in this country and surveillance is power.

An explosion of social media platforms, such as WeChat with its one billion users, comes at a cost. The Chinese Government must approve any chat rooms or forums with more than 100 followers and the people who create the sites don’t exactly fight to protect their customers’ data.

As an aside, if you think people in Perth are glued to their mobile phones now, wait until WeChat or something similar becomes the norm in WA. And it will.

It is not a fad in China — it’s life itself. The Chinese have done away or bypassed laptops and tablets and surrendered to the smartphone and apps such as WeChat, which does everything from provide entertainment to e-commerce.

There’s no need for cash or credit cards when you have what is known as a QR code. It can be scanned from a smartphone in virtually every store and business across the country.

McGowan, some of the ministers travelling with him and even Chinese-born Upper House Labor MP Pierre Yang, were given a dose of digital reality when the delegation visited the sprawling campus of online retailer Alibaba.

In one day of trading alone, more than 660 million items were sold.

It’s mind-boggling figures such as those that people who understand China could talk about all day and the reason the Premier says he brought more than 40 WA Government, business and education sector people to visit.

“You can’t ignore the opportunities here now,” he said while we travelled at 305km/h aboard one of the high-speed trains that whiz across all regions of the People’s Republic.

“It’s not all about our minerals and resources. We can’t be so susceptible to the ups and downs of those industries and must make our economy more resilient.”

After more than a week of getting the red-carpet treatment and being able to talk about all WA’s positives, the Premier will soon be back in Perth dealing with a different type of State media.

One with the freedom to ask whatever it wants.

There’s no end in sight to the Perth Children’s Hospital saga and about $400 million has to be found to plug a hole in the Government’s first Budget, thanks to the Liberal Party’s decision to block an increase in the gold royalty rate.

Feeling good about his first mission overseas since becoming Premier, McGowan might be tempted to borrow from the message China’s President Xi Jinping delivered to his country’s 228,000 registered journalists via the front page of the China Daily last week.

“The President has called on journalists to better perform their duties in recording the significant times and in telling China’s stories, and to play a bigger role while the country is on the path to national rejuvenation,” the opening paragraph read.

Then again, McGowan knows precisely what happened to the last WA premier who told the media to raise its game.

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