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Reactions to 'Australia in the Asian Century' White Paper

29 Oct 2012 09:26

The relationship with Indonesia is one of six the Government determines as crucial to Australia's future in the new Australia in the Asian Century White Paper. The priority placed on Indonesia mirrors regular Government statements about the importance of bilateral ties and the need to further advance the relationship. But on a first read, with the same caveats as Sam, I'm not convinced the White Paper contributes much to doing so.


29 Oct 2012 10:34

What is there not to like about the White Paper on the Asian Century? It is above all a feel-good document: historically we have done well in our relationships with Asia; we have the advantage of proximity; a large component of our population is of Asian descent; we are well equipped with relevant skills; we have various attributes and resources that Asia needs; and our economic track-record is one many would like to emulate.

If anyone didn't already know that we have the good fortune to be next to the most economically vibrant region in the world, this document sets out the full measure of our luck. In a world of miserable growth rates and dysfunctional politics in advanced countries and basket-case failed states among the developing countries, Asia represents a uniformly positive picture. Thanks to its past growth, it is now large enough to cast a halo of economic opportunities over any country that happens to be nearby.

All we have to do is keep on this same path: honing our economic credentials, tweaking our diplomacy and enlarging the exchanges of young people. We'll ride this Asian wave for decades to come.


29 Oct 2012 11:49

Tony Healy writes:

While I commend the PM for the ambition in her speech, I think she misses the point.

The core cultural expertise we need over the next 50 years if we are to maintain the respect of Asian nations and prosper will be in using science. Our English heritage has given us a slight disdain for science and engineering. Germans and Europeans don’t share that disdain, and Asian nations certainly don’t. Asian leaders are much more likely to have science or engineering education. The dramatic growth of Singapore, Taiwan and now China shows the value of that culture.

Most of our political leaders don’t even know which science and engineering professions are responsible for what, let alone being able to assess important issues themselves. Our corporate world is better in some areas, such as mining, but poor in areas such as information technology. This is an area where we will be eaten alive.


29 Oct 2012 14:57

Taste the Asian Century White Paper from the perspectives of process and politics.

The machinery stuff (the process) is always interesting in Canberra, and usually revealing. If this had been the Henry Review instead of a White Paper it would have been bigger, bolder, broader, and almost certainly more adventurous. A lot of what Henry and his team originally drafted got cut because this was not to be Dr Ken's take on the future but a Gillard Government statement of P-O-L-I-C-Y approved by Cabinet.

A White Paper is a government nailing itself to P-O-L-I-C-Y, or vice versa. That is why the established process has long been to do the review or Green Paper first, to shoot for the high spots before retreating to the safer realms of the formal White Paper which eventually follows. The old process reflected an understanding that good policy takes time and argument and even a bit of trial and error. New politics disdains such stuff — the Government must always know the answers and be uniformly on-message.


30 Oct 2012 08:58

Two significant reports have been released in the past two days which, if their recommendations are followed, should have a considerable impact on the health of Australia's diplomatic network: Sunday's White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century and the report released yesterday by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Australia's Overseas Representation – Punching Below Our Weight? The content of the latter makes the question mark redundant.


First, the White Paper. It recognises that, while Australia faces growing competition in the region, our level of diplomatic representation is less than that of comparable countries and has been falling over the past decade.


30 Oct 2012 10:15

The contrast between how broadsheet and tabloid newspapers covered the launch of the Asian Century White Paper on Sunday is telling. The Australian gave it saturation coverage and rolled out its big columnists to provide analysis. The Sydney Morning Herald also provided front-page coverage and considered analysis.

The Daily Telegraph, Sydney's largest circulation paper, relegated coverage to a single 1/4-page story on p.10, next to an equally sized one about the family pet. The pet story got a colour photo.

The Asian Century White Paper is the latest and most comprehensive embrace by Australia's political and wider elite of Australia's unquestioned membership in Asia and the need for Australia to change accordingly. The biggest problem with this assertion is not the difficulties of the policy reforms mentioned in the White Paper. It is that a majority of Australians refuse to join in this embrace.


30 Oct 2012 11:30

Dr Andrew Carr is an Associate Lecturer in Strategic and Defence Studies at the ANU and a former Assistant Editor of The Interpreter.

While the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper is largely focused on economics, there is a chapter on security which may give us some insight into the promised 2013 Defence White Paper. It is moderate on China, views regional defence spending as a function of modernisation rather than arms racing, and embraces a broad, regionally focused conception of security.

The most notable insight of the paper is the language on China's rise. Where the 2009 Defence White Paper struck a note of concern, the Asian Century White Paper is welcoming. Here is the 2009 Defence White Paper (p.34):


30 Oct 2012 13:35

Dr John Blaxland is a Senior Fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, ANU.

The recently released Australia in the Asian Century White Paper is excellent, as far as it goes. But one missing component is a discussion about the Australian mindset. After all, the very premise of the paper is that we Australians are different and need to work to be more welcome in the regional club, where Westerners have traditionally been seen as colonial interlopers.

To engage with Asia we need to know who we are and where we have come from. Too often Australians venture into Asia with a brash, informal and culturally unaware approach that does much to undermine prospective relations. Australians try to fit in, but it often falls flat. Our informality and directness (which we consider one of our strengths) blinds us to the significance in Asia of form, appearances, and 'face'.


31 Oct 2012 13:44

Dr Peter Dean is a Fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, in the College of Asia and the Pacific at the ANU.

One of the first pieces of commentary after Prime Minister Julia Gillard launched the Asian Century White Paper at the Lowy Institute on Sunday was an interview by ABC News 24 with Professor Bates Gill, Head of the US Studies Centre. Professor Gill argued that the US is only a 'minor player' in the White Paper. I beg to disagree.


1 Nov 2012 09:23

Australia is not alone in thinking seriously about the implications of the Asian century. Discussions at the Lowy Institute's PNG New Voices conference last week debated Papua New Guinea's international choices and place in the Asian century.

The participants at our conference had clearly not only grasped the historical significance of the rise of Asia and in particular China, they were also seized of the trade and investment opportunities on offer and the development lessons to be learned from the experience of a number of Asian countries. They were keen to learn more from an increasingly complex web of relationships with Asian partners.

This was interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, controversy over investment from countries such as China and Malaysia, which in the past has been manifested through violence, appears to have morphed into acceptance and eagerness to do business with Asia – at least amongst a younger generation of Papua New Guineans.


1 Nov 2012 12:43

Below, a comment from Alex Jones, but first, Sinclaire Prowse, a postgraduate student at the US Studies Centre, University of Sydney, writes:

An under addressed topic of discussion on the Asian Century White Paper is the implications it holds for the future of Australia's relationship with the US. The paper describes a grand vision towards strengthening the relationship between Australia and China in a variety of sectors and its provisions seem a natural and necessary exercise for Australia to undertake. But to what extent should Washington be worried about this compromising our deep security alliance?

Although very few in Washington will read it, those who do will most likely be perplexed. It only mentions the continuing role of the US in the Asia Pacific on a handful of occasions and it is striking how minute the role of the US is perceived to be, in particular with regards to security. Considering the original draft had to be re-written to include a greater reference of the US, this isn't surprising.


1 Nov 2012 13:56

Associate Professor Michele Ford is Director of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre.

It's great to see Indonesia identified as one of five key Asian nations, and Indonesian one of four priority languages, in the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, not least because I teach Indonesian Studies at the University of Sydney and have a longstanding professional (and personal) commitment to that country.

But, having read the paper, I couldn't help but wonder where the rest of Southeast Asia was when it came to Australia's blueprint for the Asian Century.

Southeast Asia and ASEAN get plenty of air time in the background sections of the White Paper. A number of individual countries are mentioned repeatedly for their (potential for) rapid economic growth. We hear of the deep regional engagement of Australian companies like BlueScope Steel and Linfox, and of professional associations like the CPA.


2 Nov 2012 10:44

Australia has shifted a long way beyond the comforting promise that it could engage with Asia without having to change itself. 

The Asian Century White Paper enshrines the understanding that much in Australia must be transformed. The White Paper is a map identifying 25 important roads with some routes only lightly sketched. Or, if you like, see it as a menu that doesn't give the price of the meals. The problems of process and politics explain some of those shortcomings, but a policy that doesn't account for the pesos is deeply problematic.

The White Paper does not proclaim a new era so much as mark another important moment in The Great Asia Project that Australia has been consciously and consistently pursing for 40 years. John Howard identified the start date for The Great Asia Project as 1972: 'For more than 40 years, every serious political leader in Australia has been committed to the belief that close engagement and collaboration with our Asian neighbours was critical to Australia's future.'


7 Nov 2012 09:03

 Dr Daniel Woker is the former Swiss Ambassador to Australia, Singapore and Kuwait and now a Senior Lecturer at the University of St Gallen. 

Those of us in Europe who follow Australian policy know perfectly well that (a) the Asia Pacific is the strategic story of our time and that (b) Australia cannot but orient its policy accordingly.

I see two major achievements of the Asian Century White Paper: first, its clear and positive embrace of the region: 'Asia will grow and Australia with it'; and second, using this view as a launching pad for an ambitious national blueprint.

I wish we had such a clear perspective for the future over here. Europe's lack of a bit of Zukunftsgläubigkeit (the shining city on hill thing) is one of its major problems. From all I remember, and continue to see, Australia does not suffer from this particular European ill.


9 Nov 2012 09:08

What role does Australian multiculturalism have to play as the Asian Century progresses? At a time when the country is reaching out to its neighbours, it seems axiomatic that Australia should celebrate its ethnic diversity and particularly the contribution of its Asian-born citizens.

Unsurprisingly, then, multiculturalism receives a strong endorsement in the White Paper, along with a realistic appraisal.

Australia has by and large managed its increasing ethnic diversity successfully. But there have, from time to time, been difficulties. Australia needs to continue to strengthen and build upon our institutional frameworks to address racial discrimination and to preserve and promote social cohesion and inclusion.


9 Nov 2012 15:41

I thought Graeme Dobell's column on the Asian Century White Paper last week was a real cracker. I found this passage particularly reassuring:

Malcolm Cook remarks on the limited coverage by the tabloids. The tabloids are, indeed, important attack dogs because of their finely tuned populist noses. The idea of teaching Asian languages to every Australian kid did not, apparently, look like red meat to the redtops. Nothing to bark at there; back to rising electricity prices.

Malcolm's worry is that the tabloid lack of interest indicates Australians just don't want to think about Asia. Perhaps, but maybe many Australians, like the tabloids, didn't see much to get excited about: Asia is important? Yeah, got that memo a while ago. Asia is paying the national bills? Knew that. Just hope we don't have to get our heads around Mandarin to help the kids with the homework. Asia is our future? Tick! Get back to us when you've worked out the details. The people expect the polity to do the policy particulars.


15 Nov 2012 12:05

Let the footnotes of history record that, in the week the Gillard Government published its Asian Century White Paper, Australian readers of The Economist saw on its cover a picture not of Barack Obama or Mitt Romney but of China's new leader, Xi Jinping. The campaign story, 'America on a knife-edge', merited only a sub-heading, and the fourth one at that.

No doubt this would be much to the Prime Minister's liking. In launching the White Paper at the Lowy Institute, some of her strongest remarks were targeted at the local media for neglecting the region on its doorstep, comments that will strike many journalists as a bit rich coming from a leader who once almost boasted of her lack of passion for foreign affairs.


27 Nov 2012 13:41

One bit of the Asian Century that has already arrived in Canberra is the way the Prime Minister keeps flying off to meet Asian leaders.

Over a three month period, Julia Gillard has done Asia Pacific duty at APEC in Vladivostok, attended the Asia-Europe summit in Vientiane, and co-chaired the Bali Democracy Forum with the presidents of Indonesia and South Korea. Back in June, Gillard was at the G20 summit in Mexico, and the G20 is as much an expression of the Asian Century as any of the other talkfests. Now Gillard is back in Canberra after her final trip to the peak for this year, the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh.

The summit cycle, especially in the final third of the year, has become an established element in an Australian prime minister's calendar. This is far from ho-hum stuff, but the rituals of regionalism, jet speeds and satellite saturation conspire to deliver a certain recurrent familiarity. All the leaders' group photos start to blur – even the ones with funny shirts.

One benefit of sticking around Canberra for decades is the ability to remark on how remarkable all this summitry is for a nation that still anguishes over notions of region and belonging.