One of China’s two millennial goals, which mark the hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Communist Party, is to complete a transition to what it calls a ‘middle income’ country by 2020-21.
A key challenge will be to achieve a good, all round living standard for its population. Even in the space of a few years, Chinese people will be wealthier, have higher expectations for public goods, and will increasingly live in cities and work in the service sector. Keeping this all-important emerging middle class – which could amount to 750 million people by the end of this decade – happy and healthy will be politically and economically crucial for the government and country as a whole.
Nevertheless, China faces some formidable challenges over this period. Health and wellbeing are among the largest of these. Firstly, despite increasing investment in the healthcare sector and rising longevity, it also has the largest number of smokers in the world, as well as rising levels of obesity due to dietary and lifestyle changes. Secondly, as demographer and National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee member Cai Fang has noted, China runs the risk of growing old before it gets rich due to its ageing population. Thirdly, serious environmental problems, which are intimately linked to public health, will need to be addressed.
This paper sets out the opportunities for Australia to collaborate with Chinese organisations as China works towards fulfilling one of the key aspects of its project of modernity: a universal, affordable healthcare system for the largest population in history. China has an immense interest in Australian experience, intellectual resources and inventions, and with the China Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) signed in 2015, there is a pathway for Australian companies to engage with the opportunities in the healthcare sector.
Through this report, the National Australia Bank, the University of Sydney’s China Studies Centre and The George Institute for Global Health aim to start a conversation in the context of China’s recent healthcare reforms and ChAFTA. These organisations represent different areas of specialisation within the sector, allowing both Australian and Chinese businesses to consider the opportunities from different perspectives. Their recommendations include: examining healthcare opportunities presented by ChAFTA; enhancing dialogue between Chinese and Australian experts; careful consideration of the location of business operations in China; concentrating in areas of strength, and exploring enhanced collaboration in the field of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
While this report is comprehensive in many respects, it does not explore legal or regulatory matters, and it is recommended that businesses consult with specialists on specific issues related to ChAFTA and its implementation.