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Relax, Australia is already becoming Asian

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This post is part of the Australia-Indonesia relations debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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29 May 2012 09:26


This post is part of the Australia-Indonesia relations debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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

To Sam Roggeveen's crie de coeur that Australia's entry into the Asian Century must become a national project, akin to reconciliation or multiculturalism, yet it cannot even get its relations with Indonesia into a higher and more substantial gear, I would laconically answer, 'Relax!'  If that sounds patronising, I apologise, but it is meant seriously because Australia is becoming more Asian, more attuned to and even more like its geographical neighbourhood.  

I am not the only diplomatic envoy leaving this fascinating country who has titled their parting shot for the lords and masters back home with a variation of the thesis, 'Australia, on its way from Oceania to the Asia Pacific'. After duty tours of mostly four years, which have been full of discoveries about Australia and Australians, I have found much to bolster my argument that Australia is becoming more Asian.

Take the economy: Many an Australian branch of a multinational company I visited is considered part of the  Asian region by the mother company far away in Europe or the US. That goes for distribution, marketing, sales and very much includes research and development. Today's Australia is by no means a 'white' country and market, as any casual observer sitting in a street-side coffee shop in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth will easily recognise (the only 'European' around might be the French student serving the coffee under a working holiday permit).

Take academia: All the Australian places of tertiary education I saw have abundant programs of student exchange and research contacts with Asia, not infrequently to a point where a European university will want to get into a triangular relationship with an Australian and an Asian university to profit from the former's years of experience with the everyday difficulties of international academic exchange.

If there must be a little critical sting in any blog entry, laudatory as it might otherwise be, it would come here: the big Australian universities should start to look at undergraduate students from Asia (and elsewhere) less as money spinners and more as future brand carriers for Australia.

Take culture, including sport: Australia is very much in Asia's driver seat in music, together with Korea, and is uncontested in all other categories, including sport. Musicals touring Asia are cast with Australian actors, major art exhibitions on Asian tours swing through Sydney, Tokyo, Shanghai and perhaps Singapore.

In sport, a little bit more emphasis on the beautiful game would not hurt; I mean soccer of course, which is played by the entire non-Anglo-Saxon world. This would mean a little less focus on archaic sports such as Gaelic football (renamed Australian rules) and cricket. OK, I know South Asia is crazy about cricket, but they will eventually grow up, too). If the Australian soccer scene could finally get its act together, many soccer stars from Asia, who are forced to seek employment in Europe, would likely rather play in the neighbourhood.

So, relax Sam: becoming Asian is not primarily a national task to throw a lot of extra money and effort at. It's is a process which is foisted on Australia by history (the Asia Pacific as the key global region of the 21st century), by geography, by immigration and much more. It should to be accompanied of course, but it will roll on regardless.

Photo by Flickr user david-tattnig.

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