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'There Goes the Neighbourhood', by Dr Michael Wesley

4 May 2011   |   Commentary   |   By Dr Michael Wesley

Winner of the John Button 2011 Prize for Best Writing in Public Policy, the book proposes that Asia is changing more rapidly than we realise. The near-simultaneous development of its two billion-plus person societies, and the reaction of other countries to this, is unleashing new patterns of strategic alignment and competition, and trade and investment flows. But Australian society, which has grown richer and safer over the past 20 years, is neither aware nor engaged with the challenges of this complex new world. This book is both a wake-up call and a roadmap to the decades ahead.

‘Australia is a country that has grown rich from opening itself to the world as never before, but this very process has made it insular and complacent about the world. Asia, the region that holds its future wellbeing in its hands, is changing far more quickly than Australians are aware of, with consequences they haven’t even begun to imagine.’

Cover, There goes the Neighbourhood
University of New South Wales Press
Cover, There goes the Neighbourhood
Key Findings
New patterns of production, consumption, exchange and power competition in Asia are profoundly reshaping Australia’s strategic environment.
The dawning of the Indo-Pacific era brings the centre of global exchange and competition much closer to Australia, enmeshing its choices in new and unexpected webs of expectations and jealousies.
In response, Australia needs to re-shape its engagement with this world, guided by a clear framework of how the region is changing, and how this change impacts its core interests.

Full Text

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    The near-simultaneous development of Asia’s two billion-plus person societies has brought to an end the era in which no country was in a bid to challenge for primacy on the world’s largest continent. One consequence is the linking of Asia’s sub-regions in consequential patterns of production, investment and exchange, bringing into being an Indo-Pacific strategic realm stretching along Asia’s southern and eastern coasts, from the Gulf to Japan. Another is the emergence of a new dynamic of strategic competition as some of China’s larger neighbours hedge against its growing power, and in the process cause concerns among their own neighbours. Despite its ever-growing enmeshment with these processes, however, Australian society is unaware and unprepared for these great changes and the challenges they pose. The growing safety and wealth of Australians has made them complacent about the outside world, and intellectual engagement has not kept pace with physical, strategic or economic engagement. Australia faces a future in which what appear to be small choices will assume greater than expected significance in a complex and jealous balance of power. Government, business and society need to recognise the scale of the challenges faced by Australia, and begin equipping themselves to grapple with these decisions.