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Reader riposte: Where are the experts?

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COMMENTS

11 March 2010 10:44

Steve Smith writes:

Really enjoy reading the blog. Just wondering if you caught this SMH article on Monday. A couple of quotes:

'There is not a single Australia-based scholar with up-to-the minute knowledge on either Chinese elite politics or macro-economics. Last year Stephen Joske, previously the Australian Government's top China economist, said "there's no one in Treasury who can tell up from down on China, beyond what they read in the newspapers".'

'The Office of National Assessments and Defence Intelligence Organisation have a core group of China specialists, but would no doubt love to increase their numbers. Even the Department of Foreign Affairs pulls up short - nobody can think of an obvious candidate to fill the shoes of the ambassador, Geoff Raby, when his term expires this year.'

Thanks for the tip, Steve; a great piece by the very talented John Garnaut, even if it does contain what I take to be a dig at this Dobell piece about the ASIC-Fortescue decision.

It's certainly true that the intelligence agencies Garnaut refers to are constantly on the look-out for China specialists, though at least ONA and Defence have had the funding they need to attract talent. DFAT has been starved of money, and it deserves not just a good ambassador but an expanded role in collecting information on China. Note I do not say 'collecting intelligence'; much of what we need to know isn't secret.

I do think some perspective is called for, though. We're a small country and the numbers are always going to be against us when it comes to trying to understand bigger countries such as China, Japan, Indonesia and the US. So this problem is never really going to be 'solved'.

Also, bigger isn't always better, and in fact, I reckon we ought to focus on improving the methods that our existing cadre of China analysts use to do their jobs rather than simply increasing their number.

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