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Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 19:21 | SYDNEY
Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 19:21 | SYDNEY

Asian Century: Should I just relax?

In their different ways, both Daniel Woker and Richard Green told me last week that I was being a bit uptight about Australia's relations with Asia and perhaps overstating the stakes when I suggested that Australia's integration with Asia is a great national project on a par with reconciliation, multiculturalism and the economic liberalisation.

I found both contributions reassuring. There is indeed more Asian integration going on in Australia than can be seen from the national policy perspective. But I think both Richard and Daniel understate the role of government.

Richard Green says multiculturalism has been a great success, but that the contribution of our leaders was 'largely in the form of getting out of the way by removing arbitrary immigration laws, for example.' I think there's a great deal more to multiculturalism than that (everything from enshrining racial equality in the law to the creation of SBS). But even if you discount those factors, it still leaves the fact that removing those arbitrary immigration laws was no trifling matter. It was a huge political step that completely changed the country.

Equally, when Daniel Woker says the Asian Century is already happening in Australia and cites the number of Asian faces he sees in coffee shops and the close relationships between Australian and Asian universities, it is important to remember that such things don't happen all by themselves. They are not even, as Daniel says, 'foisted on Australia by history...by geography'. They arise from conscious decisions made by leaders from both sides of politics who could easily have chosen different paths.

If the Australia really is going to embrace the Asian century, our political leaders will have to choose to do so. It cannot happen without them.

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