NSW Premier Nathan Rees, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and a senior delegation from China's prestigious Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) were among those celebrating the opening of a new Confucius Institute at UNSW.

UNSW is partnering with SJTU in establishing the Institute, which will facilitate student exchanges and expand opportunities for multi-disciplinary research and Chinese studies, including advanced Chinese language training.

Delivering the inaugural Confucius Institute Guest Lecture at the official opening, Premier Rees traced the long history of China's links with Australia, and in particular with NSW, which hosts more than 50,000 Chinese students and attracted 350,000 Chinese visitors last year.

Describing SJTU as "a distinguished Chinese partner for UNSW", the Premier said the collaboration facilitated by the Confucius Institute would advance important areas of research.

Mr Hawke, who played a watershed role in Australia's engagement with China in the 1980s, spoke passionately about the importance of the relationship and described as "profoundly worthy" the aims of the new Institute in building academic, cultural and business links to China.

"It is profoundly in our interests that we in this country should understand in an informed and unprejudiced way as much as we possibly can about China: its people, their culture and their incredible economic transformation," the former Prime Minister said.

Mr Hawke also praised UNSW's "pre-eminence" in Chinese studies and academic and research engagement with China.

Other speakers at the gala event included UNSW Vice-Chancellor Professor Fred Hilmer, Confucius Institute Director Associate Professor Hans Hendrischke, Chinese Consul General Hu Shan and SJTU Deputy President Professor Su Ming.

A worldwide network of Confucius Institutes is linking Chinese universities to a growing number of Western universities. SJTU is one of China's oldest and most influential tertiary institutions.

UNSW hosts Australia's largest Chinese language program. The Confucius Institute will assist in greatly expanding cultural, scientific and commercial links between Australia and China, by offering courses within University degrees and directly to the public.

The benefits of collaboration were starkly illustrated during last year's devastating Sichuan earthquake when UNSW satellite imaging experts provided vital technical data to help the Chinese Earthquake Authority direct rescue teams and predict aftershocks.

Media contact: Judy Brookman | 9385 3249 | j.brookman@unsw.edu.au